My Big Fat Revenge

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So, a couple of days ago, I caught wind of a new reality TV show on the Oxygen network called My Big Fat Revenge, a show that appeared to be a hybrid of The Biggest Loser and Punk’d.  Intrigued, I decided to check out the show’s website to learn more about it.  Apparently, the “docu-series” gives overweight women the “opportunity” to not only lose weight through Draconian measures, but also to get retribution against family members, former boyfriends, former classmates,  etc., who had shamed and made these women feel humiliated about their weight in the past.  To do this, the “fat shamers” are “set up on blind dates, auditions, and nightmare jobs to experience what they put their offenders through,” so that the transformed women can teach them a lesson and get an apology.

All I can say is “no.”  What a horrible idea for a show!  Instead of having the women embrace their bodies as-is and then confront their tormenters, this show is condoning the idea that getting thin is the best (and only suitable) revenge.  In fact, by focusing solely on losing the weight, the women are actually validating their attackers’ assertions that they should have been ashamed of their weight.  While the show does assert that fat-shaming is wrong, it essentially undermines this message by saying that unless you lose weight and look thin, you do not deserve respect.

As a television channel that is supposed to be providing inspiring and empowering programming for women, I find all of the above very depressing indeed.

Mountain Goats

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Congratulations to everybody who competed in Sunday’s USA Mountain Running Championships and NACAC (North American, Caribbean, Central American) Mountain Running Championships race at Cranmore!  The event attracted the continent’s best mountain runners.  Why the field was even open to the likes of me, I have no idea.

Because we were running on a lap course, I had a chance to see North America’s elite mountain runners up close as they lapped me.  Joseph Gray, on his way to the finish line and about to repeat as North America’s mountain-running champion, passed me as we were going up a steep and uneven section of trail.  His level of exertion appeared to equal that which I display while taking a nap.

As amazing as his performance was, I was even more impressed by my friend Darrin, of the Hartford-based Beat City Milers, who rebounded from a tough start to the season and came out of nowhere to win second place in his age group.  He went from disappointing finishes in May to now possessing a silver medal from USA Track and Field declaring him North America’s runner-up mountain-running champion for his age group.  The award reflects how hard he has worked this spring and summer.

Personally, I had a disappointing race.  My legs were unexpectedly tired during warm-ups and I felt winded after a couple minutes of jogging, both of which were red flags that something was wrong.  In an effort to stay positive, I tried telling myself that I would be okay once the race started.  Nope.  I could not get anything going on the steep uphills, nor on the steep downhills, nor on the flat . . . well, there weren’t really any flat parts, but you get the idea.

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Oftentimes, we can forecast a bad performance.  Maybe we did not sleep enough, eat right, or fully recover from a previous race/workout.  Maybe we have been chronically overtraining or undertraining, or doing the wrong kind of training.  Maybe we are returning from a layoff or dealing with an illness or injury.  When one or more of these factors are in play, we can expect a subpar performance.

Other times though, bad days come out of the blue without a clear cause.  It goes both ways though – I have had great runs come out of nowhere when I least expected it too – and either way we have to play the hand we are dealt.  We all have off days sometimes and races do not get postponed because a competitor is having one of them.  The event continues and we just have to give it our best effort, no matter how much or how little that might be.  That’s life, right?

Cranmore was the last race in the USA Track and Field New England Mountain Circuit.  Despite my disappointing performance, I did manage to finish the circuit ranked 21st out of 164 male runners.  In the process, I earned “Mountain Goat” status, meaning that I get direct entry into next year’s Mount Washington road race.

Darrin and Mic, both of the Beat City Milers, and Jonah displaying their Mountain Goat shirts

I got started with mountain racing four years ago after seeing a documentary in which one of the subjects ran the race up Mount Washington.  Joanne and I watched it together.  If I remember correctly, her reaction was “That looks terrible!” while mine was “That looks awesome!”   Six months later, I found myself in that very race for the first time.  If you are similarly curious about trying it, put your name in the lottery and hopefully we will see each other there.

 

Self-Disclosure

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When I get together with other practitioners to discuss best practices and challenges, a topic that frequently arises is self-disclosure.  In other words, to what extent do we share personal information with our patients, and what do we keep to ourselves?  Patients often want to learn about the person treating them, while sharing information can sometimes unexpectedly garner a negative reaction.  It’s a tough call and there is not necessarily a right answer.

Joanne and I have our autobiographies on our website.  Last week, a new patient said to me, “I almost didn’t come today after reading what a great athlete you are,” as she explained her intimidation.  While her “great athlete” categorization was flattering, I disagree that the label fits me, as would the thousands of athletes who have beaten me in races and tennis matches over the years.  I doubt those who watched me finish in 86th place at last weekend’s Loon Mountain Race, or who witnessed my trademarked swing-and-miss overhead during my years as a competitive tennis player, said to themselves, “Now, there’s a great athlete.”

Issues of perspective and comparison aside, the way I look at it – and I have held this opinion for years, even before I became a practitioner myself – the question is not what the practitioner does in his or her own life, but rather whether or not said practitioner can help the patient.  I never asked my neurosurgeon if he had undergone back surgery himself; I just wanted to know that he would perform the operation successfully on me.  Similarly, the patient I mentioned was overemphasizing the relevance of my own athletic background when the real question should have been whether or not I could help her towards her own goals.

Consider the classic example of a doctor who tells his patient not to smoke, then steps outside and has a cigarette himself.  People call him a hypocrite, but does his behavior really have an impact on patient care?  In other words, does the doctor being a smoker suddenly make it more or less healthy for his patients to smoke?  Of course not; they are independent.  All it means is that the doctor is human too and is dealing with his own stuff, just like we all are.

Last month, I went out to dinner with some of my friends to celebrate one of them just having finished her master’s program.  I ordered a root beer, to which one of my friends reacted, “So you don’t practice what you preach.”  I explained that in fact I do, that I encourage people to find balance, the middle ground that is right for each of them, because all-or-nothing dietary approaches fail nearly 100% of the time.  I love soda, I think it tastes great, and I would be sad to never have it.  If I tried to cut it out entirely, I would probably snap back like an elastic band and drink a two-liter bottle.  At the same time, I understand it is not the healthiest beverage for me and drinking it all the time would be detrimental to both my health and goals.  So, I save it for occasions when I feel like it will really hit the spot.

That example really illustrates what I hope people gain from my use of self-disclosure.  I would never tell anybody to exercise or eat specifically the way that I do.  Why would I advise someone else to live his or her life the way that I lead mine when the reality is that we are all unique individuals with our own goals, needs, priorities, and constraints?  What I hope people take away from my self-disclosure is that I am a guy who is working through his personal challenges to maintain balance and achieve his goals, and hopefully my patients find some inspiration in that as they strive to do the same in their own lives.

George Etzweiler

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I was going to continue “The Interior” series with two more entries in which I discuss foods like baking goods, nuts, and supplements.  However, people seem to already get the point that making sweeping generalizations about where to shop is not necessarily a great strategy, and I am wary of beating a dead horse.  If you are just dying to read what I wrote about almonds and cocoa though, send me an email.

I prefer to switch topics completely in order to share a photo I have been meaning to post for quite some time.

91YearOldThis is George Etzweiler, from State College, Pennsylvania, finishing the Mount Washington road race in 2011.  As he approached the finish line, virtually all of the spectators and runners who were still at the summit turned their attention to him and cheered.  Some of us (including me) took his picture.

At the time of this photo, Mr. Etzweiler was 91 years old.

He finished the race again in 2012, at the age of 92, with a faster time than he ran at age 89.

The Long Red Line

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A TV show that does spotlights on local businesses came down to our office the other day to film an episode about our practice.  After interviewing Joanne and me and filming a couple of mock sessions, the camerawoman took some video of the office itself.  When I noticed she was looking at the large map I have hanging on my wall, I explained to her that I rode my bicycle across the country for charity back in 2006 and the red line on the map snaking from Seattle to Boston is the route that we pedaled.

She was intrigued and asked me why I had not said anything about the bike ride when she was interviewing me.  As I was pausing to consider my answer, she offered, “I guess it doesn’t have much to do with nutrition, right?”  My immediate reaction was agreement; the trip had nothing to do with either our business or nutrition counseling.  Really, I had just put the map up for decoration and perhaps a conversation piece; therefore, I saw no reason to discuss it on a program about our practice.

As I told her more about the map and our ride though, I realized just how wrong my initial reaction was.

I kept that map in my backpack during the ride.  After each day’s trek, I took the map out and drew a short line with a red Sharpie indicating where we had biked that day.  I clearly remember being in Montana, looking at the vast distance from there back to Massachusetts, and having a hard time believing we would ever actually get to Boston.

Nobody bikes from Seattle to Boston overnight, and there are no shortcuts.  It takes waking up each morning and making a conscious decision to put in the work necessary to go to sleep somewhere a little farther east than the night before.  The daily progress sums over time, and with each day’s trip the ultimate destination grows closer.

What began as a short, red segment connecting Seattle to our first stop in Sedro-Woolley, Washington, grew into a gigantic, continent-spanning line because each day we resolved to progress a little bit closer to our goal.  Day after day, we shrunk the transcontinental distance that once seemed insurmountable until we were standing on a Massachusetts beach.

The more I think about it, the more it sounds exactly like the work we do here with our patients.

Baby Steps

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2013 is quickly approaching, and with the start of the New Year comes the inevitable onslaught of diet and weight loss ads and TV shows.  Jennifer Hudson sings to me about Weight Watchers, Valerie Bertinelli touts the wonders of Jenny Craig, Special K asks me “what will you gain when you lose?” and a new season of The Biggest Loser will start the first week of 2013.

It seems like New Year’s is when everyone renews his or her pledge to get fit, lose weight, and be healthy.  While I applaud everyone’s efforts to lead a healthier lifestyle, so many of my clients have histories of having gone to extremes in failed attempts to get there.  Many people think that overhauling their entire life is the only way to see results; that by working out every single day, cutting out all white and processed foods, etc. they will achieve their goals.  But there is nothing further from the truth!

Change is difficult and it takes a lot of time, practice, and patience.  When we try and change the majority of our food and exercise habits at once, we are setting ourselves up for failure.  It’s nearly impossible to make these numerous changes and stick with them for an extended period of time (never mind the rest of our lives!).

For these reasons, I often talk with my clients about making small changes, one at a time, like baby steps.  Once the client has mastered the desired behavior, we can move on to the next one, and so on and so on.  If we give ourselves achievable and measurable goals and we practice them day after day, we are more likely to be successful in our efforts.

So, go ahead, make some resolutions to lead a healthier lifestyle.  Just be patient with yourself and take one step at a time.