Low Hanging Health Fruit

evil breadI’m often asked what I think the first steps are to pursue health.  First, to be clear, I don’t think that anyone is obligated to pursue health or healthy habits.  I think that the decision of how highly to prioritize health and the path to take is an intensely personal one.  I am also aware that, while there are things that are shown to help us play the odds when it comes to our health, there are never any guarantees.

Still, many fat people have been mislead to believe that dieting is the only path to health and that weight loss behaviors are the only type of healthy behaviors if you’re fat.  Once they learn that weight loss hardly ever works and, even when it does it isn’t shown to lead to better health, people can feel completely lost.  I remember being really scared in the time between learning the truth about dieting but before I learned about Health at Every Size that there was nothing I could do to help my health odds.  Even when I learned about HAES I wasn’t sure where to start.

I’ve noticed that with a diet mentality the focus is often on what we are going to give up (I’m giving up this type of food, this drink, this food group etc.),  and doing what we hate (Not a morning person?  You are now!  Not a runner?  You are now!)

I’ve seen people be much more successful doing the exact opposite – making it an additive process and going after the “low hanging fruit” first.

There are any number of things that have been shown to improve our health – more sleep, less stress, fruits and vegetables, movement, water, and that’s just a start.  We are never going to be able to do all of them all of the time.

So if you want to put more focus  on your health and you aren’t sure where to start, consider adding more of something that you already like.  If you love veggies, add a couple more servings in a day.  If you hate veggies, leave that alone for now and pick something you do like/can do – get an extra hour of sleep, do some movement that you like, drink some water, hit a pillow with a tennis racket to relieve some stress.  Consider laying off the sweeping declarations for now (I’m going to drink x ounces of water every day for the rest of my life! Five servings of fruits and vegetables each day or BUST!) and just make a decision in this moment to have some water or eat an apple. Celebrate every victory and have a ton of compassion for yourself.

Obviously this isn’t the only way, but for me part of rejecting the diet mentality was rejecting the idea that the path to health was paved with giving things up and doing things that I hated. I think there’s absolutely a better way and I think it’s worth it to find it.

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32 thoughts on “Low Hanging Health Fruit

  1. how about, I will read every post on this web site whenever I happen to be online. Self esteem aint always easy, but our faithfull blogger makes it accessible. –Jen

  2. Ragen, this I think is your best post that I’ve read because it sums up very nicely what HAES is all about. The key is to pursue healthy choices, not dieting. If you end up loosing or gaining weight then great, having a healthy functional usable body is the goal. What size you are is the result not the cause.

  3. I appreciate this post extremely because it shows that “healthy” choices are different for everyone. There is no one way to attain health and/or practice HAES, but there are many ways to come to it or at it, if one wishes – all self-defined.


  4. So often we’re told that if we don’t make drastic changes, we’re never going to get better, and if we do make drastic changes, everything will change for the better immediately – immediately, I say!

    Making one or two small good decisions a day works slowly, but it works so much better. For one thing, if your goal is ‘eat an apple’ rather than ‘on my first day not sitting in one spot for nine hours at a time I will run a marathon in record time’ you’re a hell of a lot more likely to be able to reach your goal and feel good about yourself.

    Taking a moment to decide what is actually best for your specific body is even better. After all, most of us would agree that eating an apple is a healthful thing to do. Me? I hardly ever do it, not because I don’t want to be healthy and not even because I don’t like apples. I do like apples very much… but they don’t like me. If I eat a whole apple, I have digestive issues for hours, not to mention the extreme flatulence.

    So for me, NOT eating the apple is the healthy choice.

    Sigh. I miss apples.

    But at least my body loves citrus and berries!

    1. Have you tried eating an apple without the peel? Commercially grown apples have very nasty things on the peel, and often people can eat them without discomfort if they peel them first.

      1. It happens even if I just drink apple juice, so I think it may be something else in my case, alas. But at least now I have gotten to the point where I can have a little bit of apple now and again without disaster. A very fine thing because I love me some apple pie with a cheddar cheese crust.

          1. I reduce the fat (in my case, butter all the way) a little bit and add a good handful of shredded cheddar cheese (say half a cup or so) at the same time. Seriously, it’s amazingly delicious… but that cheese needs to be sharp enough to cut your finger or the flavor gets lost.

      2. I am allergic to apples and the way the allergy manifests itself is quite similar to what Twistie describes as her response to eating an apple — terrible cramps, bloating, etc. And I, too, really miss apples which I love, esp. Granny Smith’s. My response is the same to organic as non-organic, to apple sauce or apple juice.

    2. I have that reaction to nearly ALL fruits and veggies. It’s truly horrible because I LOVE fresh fruit especially. I like veggies, too, but I miss fruit. And it’s often just not worth it to eat it, which sucks when everyone’s always pushing “eat more fruits and vegetables!”

  5. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    When I gave up the Diet Mentality, my weight finally stabilized. Finally, after more than 30 years, the yo-yo dieting (lose weight, only to gain more back) came to an end. I just wish I hadn’t done it to myself in the first place, but I have to forgive myself, because I didn’t know. I was too brainwashed.

  6. As an opera singer who puts the drama in “dramatic soprano,” I have a tendency to be the one up on the mountaintop making grand sweeping declarations of change only to come up violently short three days later once that euphoria has receded and I’m back on flatter ground leaving me breathing less rarefied air. This is usually followed by ten days or more of self-flagellation and reinforcing feelings of abject failure. I’m working on those baby steps to change my focus by minute degrees which might have a chance of sticking. Your words, as always, are golden.

    1. Your comments here have often helped me or taught me to look at things in a different way. So be kind to yourself. I agree baby steps are a good way to go.

  7. This post was really helpful and timely for me, as your words so often are. I was recently diagnosed with diabetes, and just when I thought I had attained a little sanity and was sneaking up on the idea of loving my body as it is, the diagnosis threw me back into the whole self-hating, self-deprivation mindset. I was handed a meal plan that looked almost identical to the one that set me off on the diet treadmill back in 3rd grade. I have been trying to regain my balance the last few weeks, and the idea of adding, rather than taking away, has been very helpful. Thanks for reinforcing that.

    1. Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes: A Mindful Eating Program for Thriving with Prediabetes or Diabetes.

      I think you may find this book really helpful. Michele May , the author, is an HAES practitioner.

  8. Reading the book Fat Chance a couple of months ago convinced me to make some changes, the big one being giving up sugar. I had to face the fact that I was addicted to it, and for a diabetic that’s not good.

    I decided to allow myself one dessert a week (as opposed to the 15-20 I was eating) and it has worked out great. I don’t feel deprived; I just look at it differently. I still get to eat dessert 52 times a year. Have not had a problem with cravings, maybe because I make sure the one sweet I eat is really, really good. I’m not going to waste my treat on store bought cookies!

    I’m also concentrating on eating real food, not highly processed junk. My blood sugars are so much lower now. It helps a lot that I have a great, supportive doctor. He understands the need to indulge occasionally and gave me short acting insulin to use when I eat a lot of carbs. All of the fun, none of the guilt. 🙂

  9. Thank you for saying this. These exact words come out of my mouth daily as I work with people who want to feel better. As a registered dietitian, this is not what patients and clients expect from me, nor do all dietitians have this approach. Some patients dont even want to continue with me because I did not give them the “diet” they have already tried many times, and could not stick to. Everyone has to learn these things for themselves but this rigid thinking is so hard to turn from. I have other persuasive conversations at times with referring health providers who argue that restrictive rules and food elimination is required to improve health. I am convinced over and over that additive methods work to improve energy, a sense of well being and are a more gentle path to appreciating the body for all it does for us. It works!

  10. I am so, so, so sick of the attitude that if you ‘just do these ten simple things’ ‘follow my plan’ ‘bullshit here’ you will be perfectly healthy until the end of your life.

    It is a total effing lie and makes people feel horribly worse about themselves because either they can’t do what they are being told, or it doesn’t do what was promised. I wish we could ban that shit. Oh wait, I try not to ban stuff. I wish the disclaimers had to be huge.

    Chris, the newly diagnosed diabetic, I feel your pain. I went through the same thing when I was diagnosed. You will find your balance eventually. The only thing I want to encourage is trying to have some protein whenever you eat, because it helps keep your blood sugar level. So does fat.

    One more thing, diabetes is GENETIC and doctors still don’t have a grasp of how or when it shows up in different people or why some people have a much easier time managing it than others. I wound up telling a few people ‘the plan my doctor and I have is working fine’ whenever they tried to give me advice.

  11. Thinking about adding as opposed to subtracting is really what made HAES click for me… it’s such a small shift in the way we’re taught to think about implementing healthy behaviors, but it made a tremendous difference for me. Great post!

  12. “Once they learn that weight loss hardly ever works and, even when it does it isn’t shown to lead to better health, people can feel completely lost.”

    I think that there *are* people who are fat because they eat junk all day long and never exercise (just as there are people who are skinny not due to metabolism but because they deliberately starve themselves). The health of the fat people on the exclusively junk food diet probably *is* bad, because garbage in, garbage out. So for those people, switching from junk to healthier foods would probably lead to weight loss (Jared from Subway springs to mind here).

    But here’s the thing: It’s *their* body and *they* get to decide what to do with it. They are (as you always say) the bosses of their own underpants, so if they want to eat junk all day and neglect their health, that’s not my problem and not my business, and it’s no one else’s business, either.

    And also, not everyone can afford to eat healthy food. For some people, it’s a matter of getting the most caloric bang for their buck… unfortunately.

    And again, not everyone is fat because they eat junk, just like not every skinny person is starving themselves.

    Underpants rule dictates: NOT MY BUSINESS!

  13. Ragen, your post made me feel like crying! Exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you, as always. (And the opera singer – I can totally relate to that unhelpful ‘all or nothing’ mentality!)

  14. I’m very glad you wrote about this subject. I think a lot of people have this false idea about fat activists (and those in the size acceptance movement) that we’ve just “given up” on being healthy. It’s certainly the reaction that my family had when I had told them about the fact that I was no longer going to be dieting and no longer trying to lose weight. I may as well have told them I was planning on committing suicide, by the reaction I got in response. The sad thing is, I eat healthier than almost everyone else in my family, and yet as far as most of my family is concerned me “not dieting” and “not trying to lose weight”, in their heads, means I’m eating nothing but junk food, sitting on my ass all day, and just “giving up”.

    The funny thing is, once I stopped fighting my body, I’ve felt sooo much better physically and mentally. Before I used to “punish” my body, exercise was PAIN and hellish. Now it’s fun and makes me feel so good. Eating healthy was deprivation and miserable, now it’s YUMMY and helps my body to feel good.

    One of the saddest things about the western mentality about “eating healthy”, is that it has to be an unpleasant thing. The idea that eating healthy is nothing but raw lettuce, raw carrots, etc. And that’s such BS. Dishes that are healthy can taste sooo yummy. Eating healthy can be SUCH A PLEASURE! Not a deprivation.

  15. Joyful choices, yes!

    Sometimes my schedule forces me to stay up so late that I get hungry shortly before my bedtime. I know that if I eat anything not on a short list of foods that late at night, I’ll become more wakeful, or feel ill, or just plain wake up with a kind of food hangover. But I’m exhausted and I’m hungry, dammit.

    It’s a lot easier to take care of myself when I turn my mind away from thinking, “No, you can’t eat this cheese, you can’t have this bread, you can’t have a bowl of soup,” and instead concentrate on the juiciness of the fruit and the sweet creaminess of the glass of plain cold milk that will quell the hunger pangs without disturbing my sleep.

    I have a caffeine habit that I used to feed with corn syrup colas. I found out what concentrated fructose, carbonation, and phosphorus were doing to my body (in some very uncomfortable ways), artificial sweetener brought its own set of problems, my budget groaned as the cost of colas went up and up, and I knew that sooner or later the caffeine plus my increasing age would harm my blood pressure, but fussing at myself couldn’t get me any further than switching to sugar cola. Only when I decided to go searching for the perfect homemade cup of tea was I able to dump the carbonated, phosphor-laden stuff. Now I sit down twice a day to a nice mug of Lady Grey with a spoon of sugar. Remembering that I have the right to claim ten minutes twice a day to help myself feel better also helped.

    Kicking the caffeine is a whole other animal, and will probably have to wait until the youngest child can take himself to the bathroom. The headaches are unbelievable and painkillers either don’t work or knock me right out. But making the joyful choice to forgive myself for getting on caffeine in the first place has been good for me.

  16. Ragen,
    I loved this post! You have a wonderful common sense way of letting people know that it is okay to be them. And if change is what they want, your answer is always very positive, very productive and makes perfect sense. In a world ruled by those who criticize anyone not hip to their particular wisdom, you are a bright, bright star and I always get a great deal out of your posts! Thank you!

  17. Ragen, I’m so glad you mentioned sleep as something we can choose to do for our health–and it’s such a pleasant thing to do! (Which is probably why the puritanical health freaks don’t see it as important!)

    There are numerous studies indicating that sleep is even more vital than diet for staying healthy. See http://www.elephantjournal.com/2013/04/sleep-more-important-than-a-healthy-diet-katja-heino/

    My advice for people who get preached at about “doing something” about their weight for “health” reasons: Ask the person preaching at you how much sleep they get per night and cite studies such as the one above.

    I always like it when you point out the kinds of things you do in this blog post It really annoys me that our culture only seems to reward us for doing things that are difficult. What about exploring the idea that maybe some of the things our bodies respond to the easiest might be those that are the most “natural.”

  18. Thank you so much Ragan! Everybody needs to hear this! People just don’t understand that you can’t stop being you.

  19. Here’s my weird HAES tip: when you go out, bring a camera. Due to hip problems, I don’t walk much, but when I do, I find that bringing a camera makes it more fun. Then, I’m not merely walking, but treasure-hunting. I especially love insects and spiders, so I find reasons to walk past bushes where I might get a good photo.

  20. I love this post! The best health moves I have made have been ones of ADDING and CARING for myself.

    I added sessions with a personal trainer. She cheers me on and lifts me up, and helps me figure out how to get the most out of the mobility that I have.

    I added massage. It feels good. It has also given me back mobility I had lost. It has helped with pain management. It is comforting and energizing.

    I add fresh foods and vegetables that I like.

    I am not losing weight, but I sure as heck am gaining life.

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