Friday, September 26, 2008

Harvard bucks the mainstream on "nutrition information"

Last year, if you ate at a Harvard dining hall, you were confronted by a large sign listing the calorie, fat, protein, etc. content of everything you ate.

This year the signs are gone, thanks to a group of parents who protested them.

"The feeling was that for people who have eating disorders or who struggle with issues around the literal value of food, the emphasis on nutrition information does not always lead people to eat in a healthy manner," said Harvard dining hall spokeswoman Crista Martin.

It's naive of anyone to think that an "emphasis on nutrition information" will lead to "healthier" eating decisions. Most of us can't help but be aware of fat grams, calories, etc. in the food we eat (or don't eat), and the effect is hardly salutory.

I practice intuitive eating most of the time. I gave up dieting years ago. I parented a child through anorexia. But when I'm faced with those "nutrition information" signs, I immediately feel that whatever I'm eating, or about to eat, is too much. I immediately slip back into a mindset of any calories are too many.

It's like the story about the old miser and his horse. Each day the miser fed his horse a little less, until finally the horse died of starvation. The miser's comment: "Just when I was training him to need no food at all!"

Those calorie count listings make me feel as though the goal is to eat as little as possible--ideally, nothing. They immediately trigger fear, anxiety, and the restricting mindset.

Luckily I am too ornery to stay in that mindset for long. But is it really a surprise that for students at Harvard, one of the most competitive schools on the planet, signs listing calorie counts of everything served in the dining halls might be a bad idea? That a vulnerable population (driven, intensely competitive Harvard students) might be triggered by these reminders of "healthy eating"?

I don't think so.

I only wish the rest of the world would follow Harvard's lead on this one.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Free bulimia treatment

A research team at University of North Carolina, led by the fabulous Cindy Bulik, is looking for people with bulimia to take part in a pioneering study on treating this disease.

The study takes place at two sites: UNC, in Chapel Hill, and University of Pittsburgh. But you may not have to live in either of those places to enroll in the study, because half the study participants will be randomized to what researchers are calling CBT4BN, a web-based treatment involving weekly on-line chats with therapists and other distance elements.

The idea is to get treatment to people who may not have access to a therapist trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), which is currently the gold standard of treatment for adults with bulimia. The Maudsley approach has shown great promise for adolescents with bulimia.

Eating disorders are terrible, life-sucking diseases, and their treatment is still largely mysterious. Studies like this one are literally a lifeline to people struggling with EDs. So thank you Cindy, and the rest of the team, for doing this crucial work. Those of us who have seen people we love come suffer with an ED are very grateful.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fighting weight discrimination, one doctor at a time

If you've ever had the experience of going to a doctor for an earache and being lectured on your weight--or even if you haven't had that experience but dread it--there's hope for America's doctors. Yale University's Rudd Center has created an online course to help sensitize docs to weight discrimination in themselves and in the health-care system. According to a spokesperson, the course is also designed to help docs develop strategies to serve their patients better--always a good thing.

Doctors get 1 credit of continuing ed for doing the course, and their patients get a doctor who's at least been exposed to the notion of fat acceptance and questioning the status quo on weight.

I looked at the first few frames of the course and have to say it looks pretty cool. Check it out. Better yet, get your doctor to check it out.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Fighting Stigma with Science

This video is required watching for anyone with an interest in eating disorders. Cynthia Bulik is one of the leading researchers in the field, and this interview, done by Jane Cawley, co-chair of Maudsley Parents, is compelling and important. Take a look.

Fighting Stigma with Science from Jane Cawley on Vimeo.