What I Learned From Losing Weight Against My Will

Before I was ill, I took my health for granted. I was a vegan. I ate only organic. I avoided additives and preservatives and drank eight cups of water a day. I ate mostly raw mono meals, with hardly any salt or sugar. I compacted all the health dos and don’ts I had read or heard about into a very rigid lifestyle that centered on maintaining a “clean body.”  

I should’ve appreciated that my body never hurt and that I rarely got sick or needed to visit a doctor. Being healthy was like having electricity ― it was a luxury that I thought I would never be without. I honestly could not have imagined the nightmare that was waiting for me.

I have been sick now for over two years. On the journey to a diagnosis, I heard it all ― pancreatitis, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, diabetes. Even cancer was mentioned as a possibility. I have dealt with severe fatigue, recurring sore throats, low-grade fevers, body aches and chills, nausea, food intolerances, digestive distress, skin rashes, breakouts, irregular periods, brutal unworldly PMS and anxiety. Simple tasks like cleaning, doing laundry, washing dishes, sometimes even just getting dressed have been exhausting.

Finally, I tested positive for the Epstein-Barr virus, or mono. At first I was relieved to hear such a harmless-sounding diagnosis, but two years later, it seems the joke is on me.

Long-term mononucleosis, or chronic EBV, is linked to cancers and a slew of other autoimmune diseases. Some people catch the lesser EBV virus and dispel it within two to four weeks. I happen to be unlucky and developed a stronger strain. It’s rare, and there is no medicine for chronic EBV.  

Doctors have given me advice similar to what they would say if I had the flu. Rest, avoid stress, eat good food, drink fluids and “listen to your body.” They have warned me it could take months, maybe even years, for the virus to leave my system and for my body to heal. I have good days, when I am a ball of energy, and bad days, when all I want to do is rest.

I think understanding it is irrelevant at this point. I might never know why. What is important is recovering, both physically and mentally.

The first thing that went when I got sick was my digestive system. I developed viral irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO) from the virus. Eating almost anything would cause crippling gas to build up in my lower intestines, as well as vomiting, diarrhea and constipation. I struggled to find foods I could tolerate.

I quickly went from a healthy 5 feet and 110 pounds to 88 pounds. I am ashamed to say that my very early initial impulse was to welcome the weight loss. I was certain it would eventually stop, at which point I could eat cookies to gain the weight back. It was a very naive thought that I quickly grew to regret.

When the scale didn’t stop declining, when I grew too thin to fit in my clothes and had to start buying children’s clothes, I began to panic. I was dangerously underweight, and looking in the mirror was scary. My clothes dripped off my body, my eyes and cheeks became sunken, my legs turned bow-like. I had been a daily jogger, but now I slept about 10 to 14 hours a day and I woke only to move from my bed to the couch.

But I didn’t truly realize the gravity of my situation until a chance run-in with an old boss on a busy New York City sidewalk. She looked right at me and didn’t acknowledge me. I stopped her, and when she finally recognized me, she held my elbow lightly, as if she was touching a tiny bird.

I had worn my most conservative dress, trying to cover the bones that protruded from my chest, but still she stared at me in shock as she asked me about my health. Her expression stayed with me long after the “goodbyes” and “take care of yourselfs.” It was the first time I had seen myself through someone else’s eyes.

Losing weight is usually a choice, one we make for different reasons. But to lose weight against your will is something I wouldn’t wish on anyone. I had friends joke that they wished they could catch a virus and lose a few pounds. It made me angry because I knew that they wouldn’t be wishing it if they could feel what I felt. If they could feel the fear, the uncertainty and loss of self-esteem that comes with involuntary weight loss.

Our body weight is more than our physicality; it is the mass that protects and blankets us. Having lost that completely, I felt naked and vulnerable. I was scared.

That said, at one point I hadn’t been so different from my friends who made those jokes. When you aren’t sick, maintaining your weight can feel like a constant battle ― having to choose between the chips at a party versus veggies or going to the gym versus seeing a movie. The idea of losing weight without having to work for it sounds like the easy way out. The real issue is a society where we feel so much pressure to be thin that even being sick to get there seems like a relief.


Photo Courtesy of Susy Alferez

On my honeymoon last summer, feeling better and back to my normal weight.

Currently, I’m back to weighing a healthy 125 pounds. The SIBO is controlled and the viral IBS is fading. As my body slowly fights off the virus. I am able to introduce and eat more foods.

Now, when my body craves carbs, sugars or salts, I don’t think twice about giving it what it wants. I will go for the organic, local, vegan if I can, but I don’t write anything off as too “unhealthy” anymore. I know what it is like to suddenly not be able to enjoy a bowl of ice cream, to lose the privilege of choice. I am enjoying what I can tolerate instead of putting limitations on myself.

My body is now muscular and fuller from lifting weights instead of doing cardio, which is a little too exhausting still. I can feel myself getting stronger every day, and I am loving it!

I recently ran into an old friend. The last time we’d seen each other, I was at my sickest. Being the blunt person she is, she did not hesitate to comment on my new, curvier self. I was unfazed. Even as she implied I looked fat, I am so happy that I just laughed it off and joked, “You mean I look phat?”

This experience forced me to change the way I think and the choices I make. I can’t stress enough how important it is to appreciate your health and the body you’re currently in. How important it is to reward it!  

If I could give the me of two years ago some advice, I would say, “Stop working so hard, concentrate on the things and the people you love, and the fact that you are healthy enough to enjoy them.”

That, and: “Eat the cookie! Eat all the cookies.”

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This Is What No One Tells You About Massive Weight Loss

In the fitting room of a Limited Too in Miami, I told my mother, You’re hurting me. She was sausaging my body into an American flag T-shirt in the largest size they sold.  

In the third grade, I’d pore over their catalog for hours, longing not only for the bohemian-chic bandana halter tops but for the body that would allow me to wear them. The T-shirt was for a patriotic school event, red, white and blue temporarily replacing our khaki-based uniforms. I ended up wearing something else.

After spending my entire childhood inside an obese body, I finally lost 80 pounds in my early 20s, having thought I’d already tried everything. I’d said as much to my boyfriend at the time, who would frequently remark on the attractiveness of other, thinner women. He assured me that it was all just thermodynamics, that I could lose the weight if I “really wanted to.” In a passive-aggressive quest to prove him wrong, I started starving myself outright. (Did I mention how healthy this relationship was?)

As the pounds came off, I had to admit he was right ― but given my new body, I still won. Or at least, so I thought at the time.

In many ways, my weight loss changed my life for the better. My elevated blood pressure and resting heart rate dropped to normal, and later athletic, levels; I discovered passions for hiking steep trails and lifting heavy weights.

And I definitely slammed into a solid slutty streak after I’d shed the bulk of my excess body fat, intoxicated by a new ubiquity of male attention that I’d hungered so long for. I tried out my new body with six partners in as many months, having only had two in the four years since I’d lost my virginity.

But now that I’ve had this “new” body for half a decade, I have more insight into the not-so-intuitive ― and not-so-nice ― consequences of significant weight loss.

Weight loss is difficult to do, but simple to conceive: consume less than you burn. On a living-life level, of course, the effort required is monumental, and it can have lasting effects on the psyche.


Photo Courtesy of Jamie Cattanach

Walking on the beach in Saint Augustine, Florida, in 2008 or 2009. One of the happiest days I can remember, 220-ish pounds notwithstanding.

In the Netflix Original ”To the Bone,” anorexia patient Lily Collins is accused of having “calorie Asperger’s.” Although I could never be mistaken for an anorexic, I can relate. Food doesn’t look like food anymore so much as it does a sets of numbers: calories, grams of carbohydrate, minutes of cardio. I still track every single thing I eat, down to sticks of gum or sips of seltzer; I spend up to two hours in the gym on a nigh-daily basis. I follow strict and somewhat arbitrary food rules and indulge in massive, late-night binges. Although I only overeat foods in my “safe” categories, I might still consume 2,000 calories in a sitting, knocking back half a pound of almonds or a whole box of protein bars. Then I’ll turn around the next morning and crank the elliptical as high as it goes, trying try to burn it right back off again.

If that sounds to you like an eating disorder … yeah, probably. While I don’t have an official diagnosis, I do have a go-to half-joke that on a scale from one to exercise bulimia, I’m sitting at about a three. And what’s worse, part of the reason I haven’t been diagnosed is that the thought of seeking treatment is scarier than continuing to live like this. I like my disordered eating. I like the control I feel like it gives me, even though it’s so obviously out of my control.

The problem is, it feels like power: the man who leans out of his truck window to say, Ma’am, you’re absolutely beautiful ― just in case no one’s told you today. The man who drops to his knees before me on the sidewalk, hands aloft as in prayer. The man who eyes my crossed legs in the coffee shop and asks if I’m a dancer. And the tangible perks, too: the man who smiles shyly at me from behind glass, finding me a free ticket even though the show’s sold out. All those speeding violations reduced to warnings.

I’d come to this after having been told, in no uncertain terms, I was repulsive. I was the kind of girl boys dared each other to kiss in high school because the concept was that hilarious. And when they did, my heart leapt, starved as it was for attention. To see life from the other side is dizzying, unthinkable. The whole world lays itself at the feet of beautiful women, I wrote in my journal, still not convinced I owned the adjective.

The problem is, you don’t figure out until much too late why you so longed for that attention ― the cultural reality that a woman’s worth is tied largely to her physical appearance. And the problem is, in a culture that proves you’re worth only the commodification of your body, you’ll do absolutely anything to keep the validated version. 


Photo Courtesy of Jamie Cattanach

Photo after hiking up Mount Wheeler, the tallest in the state of New Mexico, in the fall of 2018.

The fear of my apparent beauty ― more accurately, the fear of losing it ― holds me inside a cage, a calorie-counting, Stairmaster-stepping life that’s nothing like what I’d imagined. I remember watching the pretty, thin girls in high school, how they’d miraculously eat lunches of pizza and French fries with no apparent consequences. Their lives, I thought, must be one long party: a stream of flirtations and consummations punctuated by guilt-free culinary indulgences.

But once my body approximated theirs, my enslavement to my newfound, ever-precarious thinness kept me from that seemingly-carefree lifestyle. Alcohol has too many calories; my insane morning gym sessions mean I’m much too tired for nightlife ― and besides, I’m an introvert with an addictive personality. So I’ll sit at home most evenings, reading a book or filling in crosswords, feeling my beauty like a dwindling resource, a lamp whose slowly-fading light I’m wasting. 

Perhaps the most surprising part of significant weight loss: I’ve done all the work, put in all the effort, and still, I struggle ― I still, despite my efforts to the contrary, spend more time hating my body than loving it.

I’ll poke and prod my face in the mirror, pinching the flesh off my chin, checking to see if my beauty is still intact ― if it ever was in the first place. I’ve spent all of the past five years convinced and terrified that I’m just on the cusp of regaining it all; I’ll scroll through my backlog of anxious mirror selfies and see, no, I’ve been pretty much the same size the whole time. I still think everyone thinks I’m fat when they first meet me.

A loss of 80 pounds means things aren’t exactly where they’re supposed be. Though I fit in a once-insane-sounding Size 4, I look nothing like the Victoria’s Secret models whose photos I used to clip for “thinspiration.” The fat I have left pools in sags of excess skin: thighs that will rub no matter how many lunges I do, a swath of baggy belly.

In some ways, it’s a simple case of moving goalposts. When I first lost the weight, carving a new self out of a much larger person, these imperfections were rendered inconsequential by comparison. Today, they’re devastating, insurmountable ― so much so that I may even hate my body more now than I did when I was obese. I’m certainly more afraid of taking my clothes off. At least at 215, my suitors then knew what they were in for. 

(I know, too, that I’m overthinking it, that I’m more dysmorphic than deformed. What I really want: to see my body as something more than the externalization of my triumph or my failure.)

When I was in college, I had a crush on a boy who didn’t even know my name, despite the fact that we shared multiple classes. After the first 40 pounds came off, he was suddenly chasing me ― and years later, he still sends me Christmas presents and flirtatious texts. One of these, sent after a visit in which I’d rejected his physical advances, stuck with me.

“You’re a beautiful and brilliant woman,” he wrote, “and I feel so grateful to be as close to you as I am.”

OK, I wanted to respond. But “brilliant” didn’t matter until the “beautiful” part.

And that’s what no one says (but everyone knows) about weight loss: it does matter. It matters so much. That’s why my mother struggled with me in that fitting room, trying to physically press me into something more suitable; why the boys who once ignored me now go out of their way to smile, to whistle, to tell me their names.

Appearance does matter. To tell ourselves otherwise is a sham. The best we can do is to try to change it, to choose body positivity, to look in the mirror and actively decide to love ourselves ― and others ― exactly as we are.

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If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

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Here Are The Health Benefits Of Giving Up Alcohol For Dry January

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12 Reasons To Ditch The Diet Mentality

It’s the end of the year, which means resolution season is right around the corner. I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions in general — to me, most seem to reinforce the false and dangerous idea that we’re not good enough as we are, and that self-improvement is key to happiness — but I especially hate diet resolutions.

Why? Because, while healthy eating is definitely important, a good relationship with food and your body is important, too. Research on the short- and long-term effects of dieting shows that it can have some pretty damaging effects, and more experts than ever are encouraging clients to quit dieting and instead make peace with food and their bodies.

Ultimately, you’re the boss of your own body, and whether or not you choose to diet is totally up to you. But before you commit to revamping your eating habits in the New Year, here are some pretty compelling reasons to give up dieting for good.

1. Dieting doesn’t actually lead to long-term weight loss for most people.


Brogues Cozens-Mcneelance / EyeEm via Getty Images

Most people lose weight at the beginning of a diet, but that doesn’t mean it stays off.

In the first few weeks of a diet — which can include calorie counting, elimination of a food or food group, following a strict meal plan, etc.— most people will lose weight. But research shows that dieting generally doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss. Many experts believe this happens thanks to a combination of mental and physical factors.

First, diets are really hard to stick to. “We have a body of research to suggest that dieting can lead to a preoccupation with food,” said Kathleen Meehan, a registered dietitian in Houston. Restricting food makes you want it more, which is why most people fall off the wagon in the first month or two of a diet.

Even if you can stick to your diet, your body will resist weight loss. “Our bodies view dieting as a form of starvation,” Meehan said. “As a survival mechanism, our metabolism slows, and hormones that regulate appetite and satisfaction change.”

2. Dieting disconnects you from what your body actually needs.

One big problem with dieting is that it teaches us to eat according to arbitrary food rules, instead of tuning into our own cravings and hunger signals.

“Diets undermine our own internal wisdom around food,” said Aaron Flores, a registered dietitian in Calabasas, California. “They say, ‘Do this, don’t do that. Eat this, not that. Your body is wrong and here’s what we can do to fix it.’ But when we reject diets and diet culture, we learn that our bodies have amazing internal wisdom. They can tell us how much to eat, when to stop and what foods make us feel most energized.”

If you’re looking to get more in touch with your own internal food cues, many experts recommend reading Intuitive Eating and using the book’s principles to stop dieting and start trusting your body instead by being mindful while you consume food. Working directly with an expert, like a dietitian or a nutritionist, can be really helpful, too.

3. Dieting makes you more likely to binge or overeat.

Have you ever started a diet with the best intentions and behaviors, only to find yourself sneaking handfuls of chips or bowls of ice cream a few weeks in? Turns out, binging is a super common side effect of dieting.

“Eventually your body catches on that it is deprived of food and reaches out for nutrition and energy in any way that it can,” said Amee Severson, a registered dietitian at Prosper Nutrition and Wellness in the Seattle area.

The fact that most binges involve sweet, starchy treats is no coincidence. “I often hear from clients that they feel addicted to carbs or sugar,” Severson said. “When we’re deprived of food, our bodies often reach for the quickest, surest form of energy: simple carbs, AKA sugar.”

What’s worse, this can lead to a vicious restrict-binge cycle. Severson said that because people have increased carb cravings, they often feel a need to consciously restrict carbs even more. Which ― you guessed it ― will most likely lead to another binge.

4. Dieting paints some foods as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ which isn’t how it works.


Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd via Getty Images

You can miss out on certain nutrients by eliminating foods a diet tells you are “bad.” 

While it’s true that some foods are more nutrient-rich than others, the idea that there are “good” and “bad” foods is fraught. For starters, eating a wide variety of foods is associated with better health, so eliminating foods that a diet tells you are “bad” might mean missing out on certain nutrients.

Plus, these food labels lead to food guilt, which can really take a toll on your mental and emotional health. When you’re on a diet, “there is a lot of guilt and shame around eating the ‘wrong’ way,” Severson said. “That is so much more stress than anyone needs. We have so many sources of stress, why does it need to come from food as well?”

5. Since diets fail, dieting can make you feel like a failure.

Most people blame themselves when their diets fail, Severson said. They’ll fall off the diet wagon, gain weight and end up right back where they started. “It sucks because science shows us that this happens to a large percentage of the population,” she said.

Flores sees the same thing happen, and said that even if we’ve tried and failed several different diets, we’re likely to blame ourselves for each failing and vow to try again in the future.

6. Dieting increases your odds of developing an eating disorder.

“Food restriction increases our preoccupation with food and body dissatisfaction ― both risk factors for developing an eating disorder” according to the National Eating Disorder Association, Meehan said.

Dieting is a risk factor for eating disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Starvation and weight loss may change the way the brain works in vulnerable individuals, which may perpetuate restrictive eating behaviors and make it difficult to return to normal eating habits,” the clinic states on its site.

7. Even if you don’t develop a full-blown eating disorder, dieting can lead to disordered habits.


Jack Wassiliauskas / EyeEm via Getty Images

Dieting can lead to developing a fear or mistrust of foods. 

Once you’re on a diet, it’s easy to slip into disordered behaviors like skipping out on social situations because you won’t be in control of the food, obsessively following diet rules or over-exercising to compensate for eating “too much.”

“As a dietitian, I often see clients who have developed a deep fear or mistrust of food after years of dieting,” said Cara Harbstreet, a registered dietitian at Street Smart Nutrition in Kansas City, Missouri. “This can range from fear of weight gain from certain foods, to self-diagnosed food sensitivities or intolerances.” Compulsive exercise is another common side-effect of dieting, she said.

All of these disordered behaviors “are generally traced back to a diet or weight loss attempt of some kind, in which the person learned a strategy or tip that impacted their relationship with food or their body image,” Harbstreet said.

8. Dieting reinforces weight stigma and the false idea that thinner is better.

The majority of people go on a diet in hopes of losing weight. The thing is, weight loss isn’t always a good thing, and isn’t necessarily a path to better health.

“The relationship between weight and health is very complex,” Meehan said. “Weight as a proxy for health is extremely problematic, as it often misclassifies people as unhealthy. We have research to show that being in a smaller body does not automatically indicate better health. Studies also show that weight loss does not automatically increase a person’s health and well-being.”

9. Healthy behaviors, not weight loss or diets, are likely what leads to better health.

Dieting and weight loss won’t necessarily make you healthier, but that doesn’t mean that improving your health is impossible. In fact, adopting healthier behaviors without dieting is a great idea.

“People of any size are able to engage in healthful behaviors and modify them to sustainably fit into their lives,” Harbstreet said.

These healthy behaviors can include things like exercising in a way that is enjoyable and energizing, not as a means to lose weight; eating foods that are delicious and make you feel good; cultivating close relationships and a strong community around you; and avoiding risky behaviors like drug or alcohol use.

10. There’s no such thing as the perfect diet anyway.


Adam Hester via Getty Images

It’s key to learn to eat intuitively and trust your body to know what foods make you feel best.

“Each person has a way of eating that will suit them best,” Meehan said. “This is explored through individualized experimentation and personal experience.” In other words: We’re all different, so it’s kind of crazy to think that one way of eating will work for everyone.

Learning to eat intuitively, in whatever way works for you, is key to feeling your best, Severson said. When you stop dieting and start trusting your body, you learn so much about how different foods make you feel, physically and mentally.

11. When you finally quit dieting, you might gain a lot more confidence.

“Some good things are improved self-confidence and self-worth,” Severson said. With dieting comes the subtle message that once you reach a certain size or look a certain way, your life can finally start. Rejecting this idea means “you are more willing to live your life the way you want, now,” Severson said.

12. Your relationships may improve, too.

“Sometimes obsessing over weight loss and restrictive diets can lead to fractures in relationships because you lose time for other people,” Severson said. Think of all the time and energy that goes into dieting and imagine spending that energy on people you care about instead.

“Letting go of dieting opens opportunities to be fully present with friends and family, and make memories that don’t involve stressful or anxious thoughts around food or your body,” Harbstreet said.

Bottom line: Vow to stop treating your body like something that needs fixing.


Matelly via Getty Images

It’s better to vow to honor your body than to obsess over how to change it.

Your body is one of the only constants in your life, Flores said. You should try to maintain a healthy relationship with it by treating it with respect, rather than punishing yourself or restricting yourself.

“The funny thing is, when we get out of our heads and stop obsessing so much around food and what to eat, we actually do more positive things for our body because we are making decisions based on respect, compassion and non-judgment, instead of fear and shame,” Flores said.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.


Why Am I Not Losing Weight?

You’re hitting the gym on a regular basis and doing your best to eat green salads in lieu of cheeseburgers, yet your pant size is relatively remaining the same. What gives?

If you’ve been finding it difficult to lose weight lately, there’s probably an explanation ― and, most importantly, a solution. There are a few key steps that you can take that can get you on the path to achieving your health goals.

Below is a breakdown of why you might be hitting a plateau as well as expert advice on how to troubleshoot any issues.

1. You are losing weight — it’s just happening slowly.

According to Lisa D. Ellis, a nutrition therapist in White Plains, New York, there is a false notion that a successful diet will have someone dropping something like 10 pounds a month. For most people, that is an unrealistic standard.

“I point out to my clients that shedding just a half pound a week ends up as a total loss of 26 pounds a year,” she said.

Ellis added that losing at a slower pace is also a safe way to ensure that your weight loss sticks. “A half-pound a week is a rate that won’t cause a person’s body to sense the weight loss as famine,” she said, noting that when a body senses a famine, it tries to regain the weight when the perceived famine is over, which is one reason why people regain weight at the end of a crash diet.

2. You aren’t drinking enough water.


Eugenio Marongiu via Getty Images

Michael Jay Nusbaum, surgical director of the metabolic medicine and weight control center for Atlantic Health and chief of bariatric surgery at Morristown Medical Center, said that you cannot burn fat if your body is dehydrated.

“The process of burning fat is very expensive water-wise. You need to be drinking more than 48 ounces of fluid per day,” he said, adding that if you notice that your stool is hard or that you’re constipated and unable to move your bowels easily, “then your body is telling you loud and clear that you are dehydrated.”

3. You are not sleeping enough.

Get those Zzzs. Your brain and body will thank you for it.

“Any time we sleep for less than seven hours, our metabolism slows down,” said Craig Primack, an obesity medicine physician in Scottsdale, Arizona. “One study showed that the same person burned 400 fewer calories when they slept for five and a half hours vs. eight and a half hours.”

4. Your medication may be to blame.


Towfiqu Photography via Getty Images

Primack said that certain medications ― such as those for blood pressure, diabetes and depression ― can not only slow down weight loss, but may also foster weight gain. But that doesn’t mean that you should ditch them: Talk to your doctor first.

“For our patients looking to lose weight, we try to talk to their primary care physicians to see if there may be a good alternative to these medications. If there is not, we work to implement low-carbohydrate and low-calorie diets to override the weight implications of those medicines,” he said.

5. You eat healthy sometimes.

“A lot of the reason people have a hard time losing weight initially is they aren’t completely committed to the process. They are always quasi-dieting,” said Erin Wathen, a certified life and weight loss coach and author of the upcoming book Why Can’t I Stick to My Diet? “For example, during the weekdays, they are good. On the weekends, not so much.”

In order to make a serious dent in your weight loss plan, Wathen recommended trading in the concept of a short-lived diet for a healthy lifestyle change.

“Fully commit to making lasting change ― not until the reunion, the wedding or until you reach the magic number and then you can eat how you have always wanted,” she said.

6. Your workout may no longer be challenging your body.


Westend61 via Getty Images

“Weight loss plateaus are also quite common and happen when someone has lost a certain amount of weight but the body levels out,” said Justin Blum, CEO and owner of the Raw Fitness Franchise. “If this happens, switch up your routine to incorporate other types of activities you are not currently doing.”

If all you’ve been doing is hitting the elliptical, for instance, try adding strength training, sprints, high-intensity interval training or trying new fitness classes throughout the week to “jumpstart your body again,” Blum said.

7. You’re stressed.

Blum said stress can play a major role in weight loss, especially chronic stress because it “makes your body believe it’s using calories to deal with stress and makes you ‘hungry’ because your body thinks you need to replenish them when you don’t.”

Blum added that cortisol and comfort food the biggest culprits when it comes to stress causing weight gain and preventing weight loss.

“Stress management is just as important as following a diet plan, but the good news is exercise is one of the greatest ways to combat chronic stress,” he said.

8. You’re prioritizing exercise over nutrition.


d3sign via Getty Images

You can put in hours at the gym, but if you aren’t eating well enough, then you may not be experiencing the weight loss that you desire.

“People often believe that if they just exercise more, they will lose weight. However, weight loss and healthy weight maintenance boils down to 75 to 80 percent nutrition and only 20 to 25 percent physical activity and exercise,” said Molly Devine, a licensed dietitian/nutritionist and founder of Eat Your Keto. “So if your nutrition isn’t on point, it doesn’t matter how often or how hard you work out, the weight loss may not come.”

9. You’re not keeping track of how much you are eating.

A few chips, a fistful of nuts and several crackers can really make a difference if you’re consuming them daily.

“Often, people grossly underestimate how much they really eat in a day. They may not count liquid calories or tasting food, or the mid-afternoon snack. Little things that really do add up,” said Pam Sherman, a certified trainer and founder of The Perfect Balance. She suggested logging your meals into a tool like MyFitnessPal or Lose it! to keep track.

10. You’re not accounting for alcohol.


Thomas Barwick via Getty Images

“You don’t have to have a drinking problem for alcohol to be holding you back from your ultimate weight loss goals. It’s pretty sneaky how it affects our metabolism and most diets don’t usually instruct to cut out alcohol,” said Karolina Rzadkowolska, founder of Euphoric Alcohol-Free, a space that empowers people to find freedom from alcohol for happier and healthier lives.

According to Rzadkowolska, alcoholic drinks can pack on empty calories. “One glass of wine has between 150-200 calories. A beer clocks in between 100-200. And some heavy IPAs can be 300 calories,” she said.

Rzadkowolska added that alcohol can also increase your appetite and lead to unplanned snacking. (Hello, drunk munchies!)

11. It may be an underlying medical issue.

If you’re making the right lifestyle choices and you’re still having trouble, you might be experiencing an underlying issue, said Jill Brown, a health and nutrition coach and fitness trainer in Los Angeles. In her experience, this could mean that something is slowing down your metabolism or you could be experiencing a hormonal imbalance.

“A sluggish thyroid or low estrogen levels can cause this, for example. Quite simply, you need to be burning more calories than you’re consuming and if your metabolism has slowed down, you may want to find out why,” she said.

12. You could have a nutritional deficiency.


Jaromir Chalabala / EyeEm via Getty Images

“I would say that one often overlooked cause of trouble losing weight is vitamin deficiencies,” said Arielle Levitan, an internal medicine physician and co-founder Vous Vitamin LLC.

Studies suggest, for instance, that vitamin D deficiency may be linked to obesity and that people with vitamin D deficiency have a harder time losing weight.

“In addition, we find that repleting certain other key vitamin deficiencies such as iron, B12 and magnesium can allow people to feel better, more energetic and as a result, have an easier time living a healthy lifestyle which includes exercise, adequate sleep and thoughtful meal planning,” Levitan said.

13. You’re not eating enough protein.

Studies have shown people feel fuller longer and consume less calories over time when they eat more protein.

“Your body digests protein slower than any other macronutrient, which means your blood sugar and hunger don’t spike, so you’re less likely to overeat,” said Greg Pignataro, a certified strength and conditioning specialist.

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Weight Stigma Is One Of The Last Socially Acceptable Forms Of Discrimination

In the weeks since my HuffPost Highline feature on fat-shaming came out, I’ve been inundated with readers’ stories of how weight stigma affects their daily lives.

One reader told me he rarely gets overtly bullied by strangers, but their unsolicited diet advice feels even worse. Another said she leaves the room when her colleagues start talking about their new diets, because it’s only a matter of time before a woman smaller than her describes herself as “huge.” These stories of interpersonal discomfort permeate workplace and social settings, and can have serious, even deadly consequences. In perhaps the most alarming story to hit my inbox, a reader said her doctor refused to give her an MRI after she complained of chest pains, telling her to lose weight instead. Years later, when she finally talked him into giving her the test, he found a 12-pound tumor in her chest that required surgery to remove.

These personal stories, in aggregate, match a growing body of research showing that fat stigma is severe, pervasive ― and utterly overlooked by America’s public health institutions.

In an effort to circle back to some of the findings I didn’t get to include in the article, I asked Patrick Corrigan, editor of the journal Stigma and Health and author of The Stigma Effect, to help explain them. Corrigan has been working on discrimination-related issues for more than 20 years and has developed a program, “Honest, Open, Proud,” that helps members of minority groups resist and cope with stigma. He told me what’s unique about fat-shaming compared to other forms of discrimination, when to confront it and why everything we’re doing to fight it isn’t working.

How do fat people differ from other minorities as far as stigma is concerned?

In stigma research we often talk about “visible” minorities, like ethnic groups, and “invisible” minorities, like people with mental illness or living with HIV. Visible minorities have to navigate a world that sees them and makes judgments instantly. Invisible minorities have to determine how and whether they want to disclose their status.

What’s interesting about fat people is that they’re a little bit of both. People see you and make judgments, but you also have to disclose your wants and needs and your individuality. What you’re demanding is equality and the recognition that bigotry is interfering with that.

As a gay guy, it sounds to me like you’re talking about a form of coming out, that moment when you choose between “I’m gonna bring this up now” and “I’ll let this one slide.” Why is it good for people to tell others what they need?

The first reason is that keeping secrets is terrible for you. We know this from the gay community and from people with mental illness. Even people who get negative reactions ​after they choose to come out ​report they they’re glad they disclosed in the long term.  

For fat people, of course looks different. There may be practical things they’re afraid to bring up, like the ways a joke is hurting them or a physical space that’s not designed for them. Or maybe they’re just tired of tiptoeing around their weight all the time and want to talk about it openly.

Another reason for disclosure is that, at the broader level, it helps reduce societal discrimination. We know that weight stigma is pervasive, and anything you can do to talk about it with your family or friends can help turn that tide. The more people who do that, the better.


Tristar Media via Getty Images

Plus-size model Tess Holliday, seen here in 2017, is an advocate against fat-shaming.

The real significance of the term “minority” isn’t about numbers, it’s about power. Another huge group that still faces discrimination is women. Depending on how you count, they’re about 52 percent of the population. Or older Americans ― we’re all going to end up there, and yet the elderly are discarded in our society. So to me, a “minority” isn’t what we think of statistically. It’s just a group that’s seen as different or outside of the norm, and we’re trained to think that’s bad.

One of most stressful things about stigma, it seems to me, is the ambiguity. Was that waiter rude to me because I’m fat? Or is he rude to all his customers? You go back and forth being angry and then asking if you have a right to be angry. What do you tell people trying to figure out if what they’re experiencing is actually stigma?

Nobody gets it right 100 percent of the time. A huge component of resisting stigma is replacing the feeling of being unempowered with a feeling of being empowered. Prejudice and discrimination rob you of opportunities. Employers take away jobs, landlords won’t give you a place to live, health care providers don’t offer appropriate standards of care. When you push back against that, when you speak for yourself, you’re taking some of that power back. Standing up won’t solve the stigma in that interaction, but it gives you a sense of control.

That’s why it’s important to find communities where you can talk about these experiences. You have to give yourself permission to get it wrong once in a while. A community is where you can have these debates without anyone questioning your right to them. It’s hard work to constantly be explaining basic fundamental issues to people.

What do we know about when people should confront discrimination when it’s happening?

I used to be against confrontation. The idea was, if you’re a minority and you start pushing back against discrimination, you’re going to entrench those discriminatory beliefs. But based on research we’ve seen in the African-American community, we’ve learned that confrontation that’s empathic and educational really can change stigma.

The other interesting thing we’ve found is that, for example, if a white bystander sees someone say “All black people are lazy,” and he jumps in to say “No they’re not,” he has a much bigger impact on a white person than the black person does.

That sounds like an argument for allyship, that thin people should start standing up for fat people a lot more.

It’s one of the many reasons for allies: You’re limiting the number of spaces where someone can say derogatory things.


Malte Mueller via Getty Images

Positive depictions of even moderately plus-sized bodies are rare in stock photo databases and wire services (it took us over an hour to find this one), giving news organizations few options other than using stigmatizing images.

What else do we know about reducing stigma at the societal level?

We know the most about what doesn’t work. Education is ineffective, for example. Explaining to people all the genetic and hormonal contributors to obesity doesn’t change their attitudes.

We also know word games don’t work. In Asia, they’ve tried renaming schizophrenia to reduce the stigma, and it’s had no impact on the public. People say, “I don’t care what you call it, they’re all just nuts.” Those debates also lead to word policing. You call it one thing and I call it another thing, and now we’re arguing about the vocabulary, but we’re not dealing with any of the underlying assumptions and finding out where we truly agree or disagree. It’s a huge waste of time.

If efforts at the institutional level don’t work, do we have to do this individually?

The way we reduce stigma is interacting as peers​ with lived experience. The more interactive, the better. Meeting someone who doesn’t fit the stereotype and getting to know them well is crucial. I need to be close enough to a fat person to know that they play piano or go hiking or are grumpy on Mondays or whatever else I can add to that one characteristic. Media representation can help with this, but it’s the personal relationships that matter.

For fat people, this is harder because we have this whole zeitgeist around thinness and health. We have growing positive media representations, but they’re drowned out by the negative representation that being thin is imperative and that any of us, if we’re weak enough, could become a fat person. That’s one of those fears that has to be confronted person-to-person.

Which, of course, is even more work for fat people.

One of the tragedies of stigma is that it’s always the people most victimized by it who have to do the work of solving it. Even though it was never their problem to begin with.

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Here’s Why It Feels Like It’s Harder To Lose Weight In The Summer

The summer can have its downsides when it comes to your physical health. Not only does it seem like the temptations are stacked against you — looking at you, backyard cookouts, ice cream cones and happy hours — it may appear like you’re not making any fitness or weight loss progress. It turns out there may be a reason you feel that way.

According to Sharon Palmer, a registered dietitian nutritionist based in California and owner of the blog The Plant-Powered Dietitian, your metabolism might slow down slightly when it no longer has to produce heat. This means it might be a little slower in the toastier months when your body is already warm, compared with the winter months.

“Think of our bodies like a furnace — we stoke it with fuel (food) to keep it warm,” she said. “When it’s colder, we have to add more fuel to compensate for the energy required to produce heat.”

Debra Sheats, an assistant professor in foods and nutrition at St. Catherine University in Minnesota, said that because the environmental temperature is so close to your body’s internal temperature (typically around 98.6 degrees), your metabolism slows down by about 10 percent. But that’s not the only thing that could be inhibiting your goals.

“When it is very hot and humid outdoors, we have a tendency to not go outside as much to walk, bike or jog,” Sheats said. “Instead, making the choice to stay inside with the cool air conditioning may mean more time spent at sedentary activities such as reading or activities involving screen time.”

And if you do decide to venture outdoors, the tool that keeps you cool, AKA drinking water, may also cause a little weight fluctuation. John Castellani, a researcher at the Thermal and Mountain Medicine Division of the U.S. Army’s Research Institute of Environmental Medicine, found that a person’s body weight may increase by as much as several pounds in the summer due to increased water in the body.


vgajic via Getty Images

While a person’s daily water needs depend on how much time they’re spending outside and their level of activity, hotter and humid temperatures make you more likely to sweat. Since the clothes you wear make it hard for sweat to properly evaporate and cool you off, you end up requiring more water retention to lower your internal temperatures. This process is your body’s way of adapting to the negative effects of heat stress. It happens more in people who are engaging in regular physical activity outside than those who spend their time indoors in the A/C.

But don’t let this keep you from getting your daily H2O. Sloane Davis, a certified nutritionist, personal trainer and owner of the blog Pancakes & Pushups, said not drinking enough water can be just as bad and detrimental to your overall health.

“We sweat more during the summer months,” she said. “If you don’t drink enough water, the body becomes dehydrated, slowing it down and decreasing the metabolism.”

So, what can you do?

Hot weather may have a minor effect on your body in some cases, but there are ways to counteract these hurdles. Davis said one of the ways you can speed up on your metabolism on your own is through regular exercise in the summer months.

“Incorporate resistance training along with some low-intensity cardio four to five days a week,” she said. “Get a good night’s sleep and drink plenty of water, preferably cold water.”

When it comes to exercising in the heat specifically, Sheat recommended working out early in the morning or late in the day when it’s cooler. Or, if you want to avoid the outdoors altogether, try doing at-home yoga or finding an online workout with weights. You can also go to fitness centers or workout studios to stay in the air conditioning.

No matter how you chose to exercise or maintain healthy habits, it’s crucial not to let small, external factors deter you from your goal.

“It’s important to keep in mind that there may be only small differences in metabolic rates during the year,” Palmer said. “Given our modern lifestyle with cushy air-conditioned and heated homes that keep them at a perfect 72 year-round, we may not really experience significant metabolic rate variations.”

Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Virginia and author of the book Prediabetes: A Complete Guide, said that weight loss is too complex for something like temperature to have a major effect on. As long as a person has the right mindset and is willing to focus on the process and not just the pounds, losing weight during the summer is totally possible.

“I think that sometimes people put an emphasis on teeny tiny things,” Weisenberger said. “It’s so much smarter to use your energy — which is a limited resource — on something that’s really important, like eating regular meals and getting a good night’s sleep… People measure their water and they worry about the temperature and it takes away the energy from things that really make a difference.”

In other words, if being healthy during the summer is your goal, then a little metabolic difference or slight change in your body ― or any time ― shouldn’t stop you.


I’m Running 10 Marathons This Year And I Still Get Fat-Shamed. Here’s My Response.

Last year, I completed two 50Ks and four marathons ― three of which were done within a two-month span. And just a week before I participated in the New York City Marathon, I also completed my first 100K ― the Javelina Jundred event in the Arizona desert, which involves running roughly 62 miles.

This year I signed up for 10 marathons and a 50-miler, and I intend on running in my first 100-miler. Still, despite earning over 100 finisher medals and completing close to 200 running, cycling and obstacle course racing events over a span of five years, the internet police continue to remind me to lose some weight. I’m an unapologetic 5’3, 242-pound road and trail ultra runner from Brooklyn sponsored by HOKA ONE ONE running shoe company, and I am continuously fat-shamed.

On Jan. 3, I posted a video on my Instagram account of my fitness regimen. A day later, this same post resurfaced as a suggestion on my Instagram “Explore” page as a repost by a person followed by more than 50,000 people. Despite not tagging me in the comments, the poster expressed “concern” that while my “advanced workouts” are admirable, she “feared for the shock” that it would place on my fat body.

Perhaps this person thought I would and should feel comforted by the condolences that she (and her sizable following) offered about my “weight loss journey,” but I didn’t. Even worse, when I tried to have a private conversation with this person, she immediately blocked me.


Frankly, I’m not sure which part of the post was the most humorous to me: the part where several Google and WebMD doctors who knew nothing about my five-year fitness journey sounded off on what they must have assumed to be my unhinged eating habits or the countless people who suggested that a woman shouldn’t lift weights and should stick to cardiovascular activities.

Over the years, I’ve encountered so many people who are absolutely mind-boggled when they learn I work out or participate in a multitude of events for reasons besides weight loss. And the disapproving commentary doesn’t just happen online ― I’ve experienced it offline, too. It’s only been a bit over a year since I was fat-shamed at the 2017 New York City Marathon. But the abuse began long before that.  

When I first started working out in May 2013, I weighed over 265 pounds and had a number of issues ― some of which had nothing to do with my weight ― that limited my mobility and left me in an immense amount of pain. My doctor urged me to get my health in order and I quickly assumed losing weight was the remedy. So, I lost 100 pounds in a year.


Courtesy of HOKA ONE ONE Media Team

Latoya Shauntay Snell ran for a combined total of 28 hours and 27 minutes in the heat of Fountain Hills, Arizona — breaking for less than an hour of sleep — to complete her first 100K in 2018. She was the last participant to cross the finish line, and she was surprised to see so many people had stayed for her arrival.

Initially friends, family and onlookers praised my weight loss and told me that I was “inspiring.” Before I knew it, my goals shifted from wanting to be healthy to trying to conform to a supposedly ideal body type that others would approve of. While I thank my weight loss for providing me with new a way to tap into my adventurous side and to check off items from my bucket list that I may not have considered before this journey, I became obsessed with pleasing everyone around me.

Within that time period of losing 100 pounds, an online buddy from the UK encouraged me to sign up for my first half marathon, Even though I’d never even run a 5K, I wanted to try it and thought I thought this would be a one and done. I was wrong. Running gave me a sense of community and a newfound respect for my body. I quickly fell in love with the sport and began to share my training on my social media. It wasn’t long before negative comments began to surface and they were surprisingly reminiscent of the ones I received when I weighed over 265 pounds.

At the time, I was 175 pounds and resting comfortably at a size eight. But my various inboxes were filled with messages from friends and acquaintances who were all asking me different variations of the same question: “If you are a runner, why are you still fat?”

My various inboxes were filled with messages from friends and acquaintances who were all asking me different variations of the same question: ‘If you are a runner, why are you still fat?’

Conversely, others accused me of being on drugs to have lost so much weight and made fun of my smaller frame. I suddenly found myself trapped between those who thought I was “too fat” and those who thought I was “too skinny.” Despite losing more weight than my initial goal and feeling good about myself, it seemed I couldn’t please some people no matter what I did or what size I was.

Before I knew it, I started taking advice from people other than my doctor and I began running 30 to 40 miles a week, lifting at the gym for 45 minutes at least 4 times a week and eating less than 1500 calories a day. I maintained that regimen for months. Soon, I started experiencing memory fog, felt exceptionally tired and quickly hit a plateau. The worst part: I hated the way that I looked.  

I continued to try to ignore the urges I felt to eat more and refused to give myself necessary rest days from exercising. I blocked out severe warning signs that I was malnourished and severely dehydrated. Then, in April 2015, while I was on my way to work, I started sweating profusely on the train even though it was only 13 degrees that day. Several passengers asked me if I was okay when they saw my visibly wet shirt after I removed my coat. I assured them that I was fine and shrugged off the experience until a short time later when I suddenly lost my vision in the middle of a busy Manhattan street. I somehow managed to make it to my former employer on the Lower East Side and collapsed as I entered the restaurant.

I convinced myself that I had an anxiety attack until a doctor asked if I was suffering from anorexia nervosa. I laughed at first but then the doctor started naming symptoms that I had experienced but ignored, like losing hair and having an erratic pulse. At that moment, I realized that my vanity and what other people thought about me could have eventually cost me my life. It took months of counseling and positive self talk to finally be able to begin to put on weight and eventually accept my body as it is now.  


As my weight gain occurred, I initially began to panic but my therapist helped me question exactly what I was afraid of. Decades of being conditioned to want to look like magazine covers and years of being steeped in diet culture taught me to be fatphobic. As I started pursuing longer distances during my runs ― while simultaneously abandoning the desire to lose weight and exploring other areas of my fitness journey ― I quickly realized that I was surrounded by athletes of all shapes, sizes and fitness abilities and that size doesn’t necessarily determine a person’s grit or physical capability.

In the running community, we often say that if you are moving your body, you are a runner ― regardless of the pace. It also quickly became clear that I needed fuel for my body, which sometimes meant even eating as I moved.  I learned that doesn’t mean I had to eat everything in sight but it does mean that I have to be in tune with what works for my body. 

Still, just because I changed my perspective on body image doesn’t mean that the world changed with me. When I launched my blog, Running Fat Chef, in 2016, the internet was quick to attack me with everything from fatphobia to racism to parent-shaming and accusations that I caused my 11-year-old son’s type one diabetes diagnosis.

The concern trolls ― who I coined “Google Search Avengers” ― were some of the worst because they were always able to dig up a convenient “fact” in order to refute something I said or was doing.  Another favorite tactic of my critics was to purposefully twist my words and try to use them against me. For instance, if I claimed I was a firm believer in body positivity, it would instantly be misinterpreted as “promoting obesity” ― an accusation that I’m slammed with on a regular basis.


Courtesy of HOKA ONE ONE Media Team

Last September, Snell collaborated with HOKA ONE ONE running shoe company to discuss aspects of her fitness journey and share some of the vile comments that she receives in her inboxes on a regular basis.

I also quickly learned that if you complain enough about being fat-shamed, people will accuse you of not having a thick enough skin or say that you’re simply being melodramatic or seeking attention and suggest that you just “turn the other cheek.” Well, let me tell you, my face is red, blistered and sore from all of the cheek-turning I’ve done.

I certainly don’t want ― or have the time ― to fight every person who says something offensive about me, but I refuse to ignore or smile away or enable the general mob-like bad behavior practiced in the public court of opinion on the internet. Instead, I pick my battles wisely and stand my ground ― and I encourage others to do the same.

Because the internet often permits individuals to remain anonymous, they can feel safe and entitled enough to say things that they normally wouldn’t say to someone in person. Whether their comments are a result of being conditioned to believe in outdated “health formulas” like BMI or stem from people dealing with their own internalized fatphobia, I’m not obliged to give anyone an explanation about my body fat or body image. For me, it’s this simple: mind your business ― keep your eyes off of my scale and your imagination off of my plate.

Sometimes I try to have healthy conversations with some of my critics and ask them why they feel so strongly about my weight and how I live my life. If I can have a productive discussion with one person in a public forum like the comments section on Instagram, then I figure others might be able to learn something. However, there are definitely times when that’s just not possible and I’m forced to resort to blocking people.

I’m not obliged to give anyone an explanation about my body fat or body image. For me, it’s this simple: mind your business ― keep your eyes off of my scale and your imagination off of my plate.

Still, not all of the trolls in my life live online. Sometimes they were coworkers or friends; these days, they’re mostly strangers who don’t know when to keep their opinions to themselves. I never think it’s appropriate for someone to offer their thoughts or assumptions about my health or my body and I am never going to be pressured into disclosing information about my medical history or anything else having to do with my private life. If they cannot understand why this is so incredibly violating and don’t respect my wishes to be left alone, I remove myself from that situation before I lose my composure.

Sometimes the most vicious comments come from those who used to be my size or larger ― and sometimes they are still my size. In those cases, their commentary stings just a bit more. Logically I know that their problem probably isn’t with me personally but more or less what I represent. Nonetheless, receiving negative feedback from someone who has been where I am or is currently there leaves an especially bitter taste in my mouth.

Instead of lashing out at them, I remind myself that everyone has their own time and way of trying to become comfortable in their own skin. Some people might never get to that point ― and that’s okay, too.  I know how long and difficult that journey can be ― but either way, I refuse to be the punching bag they use to work (or avoid working) through any trauma they might have about their bodies or body image.

These days, when I wake up in the morning, I ask myself how can I flourish as the best human being I can be. I no longer want to ― or worry about ― fulfilling someone else’s fitness goals. I no longer want to be ― or worry about being ― the star of anyone’s “Woman Crush Wednesday.” I’m too busy trying to be the boogeyman to my own fears and, subsequently, the best version of myself. I want to look into the mirror and be proud of the incredible athlete and human being that I’ve grown into.


Courtesy of New York Road Runners

Snell running the New York Road Runners Mini 10K last May.

Six years ago, nobody could have told me that I’d take fitness so seriously that I’d build a career around it ― mostly because I was never taught that I could and should love my body and all of the amazing things that it can do no matter what size or state it’s in. If I lose weight, that’s fine, but it’s not something I ever concentrate on anymore. I now feel so full from embracing this new kind of confidence, I cannot help but want for it to be infectious so that others can hopefully experience how good it feels.

And as for those individuals who continue to make assumptions about my portion sizes or my weight or who can only bring themselves to be disgusted by my happiness, I still wish them the absolute best. I hope one day ― sooner rather than later ― they’re able to turn that attention to themselves and they become so busy looking after their own lives that they’ll be too busy to worry about what I’m doing. I hope they learn to spend more time loving themselves and less time hating on me and others like me. Hopefully, they can finally bring themselves to keep their unsolicited and unwanted comments to themselves.

Outside of her fitness work, Snell is a freelance chef, photographer and founder of Running Fat Chef ― a personal and uncensored fitness and food blog about her experience as a plus-size female athlete of color. Snell is a contributing writer to platforms including Runner’s World, Gear Junkie and The Root. She is also a co-host of The Long Run that’s part of the 300 Pounds and Running podcast.

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Is Cheez Whiz Healthy? Here’s The Truth About Its CLA.

When Cheez Whiz first appeared on grocery store shelves in the early 1950s, it was praised for its long shelf life, convenience and versatility. But over the years, the very characteristics that once made the Kraft cheese product popular have given it a reputation as a premiere American junk food.

But now, a small community of fitness influencers is trying to redeem Cheez Whiz, touting it for containing high levels of a certain fatty acid that can potentially aid weight loss and fitness, and maybe even fight cancer.

This ingredient is called CLA, or conjugated linoleic acid, which naturally occurs in meat and dairy products and has been shown to help burn fat and build muscle. Cheez Whiz’s high levels of CLA have earned the product a spot on lists of “healthy junk foods.” Even The Washington Post called CLA a “food for fending off cancer” back in 1989. But is it actually good for us?

What is CLA, anyway?

CLA is an important nutrient that most people consume in regular diets of meat and diary. Research is still ongoing to identify its true benefits, but CLA weight-loss supplements have become more popular as word has gotten out that it can help people meet fitness goals.

Cheez Whiz contains 5 milligrams of CLA per gram of fat. Comparatively, homogenized milk has 5.5 milligrams of CLA, beef has 3 to 4 milligrams, chicken 0.9 milligrams, seafood less than 1 milligram and cheeses range from 3.5 to 6 milligrams.

So, um, should we all be eating more Cheez Whiz?

A spokesperson for Kraft Heinz, owner of Cheez Whiz, declined to comment on the product’s CLA levels. But health experts say just because the product is high in CLA doesn’t mean Cheez Whiz should be considered healthy.

“Most studies recommend about 3 grams of CLA daily to achieve even a modest fat loss. Average adult CLA intake is around 0.2 grams a day from dietary sources.”

“I will never promote the intake of Cheez Whiz,” said Dusty Marie Narducci, assistant professor at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine who also is a family medicine and primary care sports medicine clinician and USF athletic team physician. “The other ingredients of Cheez Whiz will most likely counteract any health benefits potentially associated with the high level of CLA.”

The CLA in Cheez Whiz likely comes from its ingredients of cheese culture, canola oil and protein concentrate, Narducci said, adding that the less-than-healthy components include modified food starch, corn syrup, sorbic acid and added color.

CLAs are polyunsaturated fatty acids and feature several different isomers, or compounds of the formula, but with a different molecular arrangement and properties.

Technically considered trans fatty acids, CLA isn’t classified as a trans fat by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. It was designated as “Generally Regarded as Safe” by the FDA in 2008, exempting it from being listed as a trans fat on nutritional labels, according to a report published in the journal Nutrients.

OK, so no Cheez Whiz. Then what’s the healthiest way to consume CLA?

The best food sources of CLA are beef and full-fat dairy, where it is found naturally, Narducci said. Smaller concentrations are in most meat, fish and other dairy, and CLA can be produced synthetically from linoleic acid-rich oils, like safflower, sunflower, corn and soybean oils, a likely source of the CLA in Cheez Whiz.

CLA supplements, often marketed as weight-loss or muscle-building aids, are another source. But, despite numerous studies, CLA’s effectiveness in these areas shows mixed results.


mcpix via Getty Images

Eating too much CLA, which could come in the form of Cheez Whiz, could cause fatigue and gastrointestinal issues.

“Much of the hype came from the results of animal studies that demonstrated things like lower food intake and less production of fat,” said Ali Webster, registered dietician and nutrition communications associate director at the International Food Information Council Foundation, a nonprofit partially funded by food companies. “But, these results haven’t been consistently replicated in humans.”

Some studies, Webster said, have shown CLA supplements to have negative effects on glucose metabolism, HDL (good) cholesterol levels and inflammation, while others have suggested positive effects, like fat and body weight loss, LDL (bad) cholesterol reduction and anti-inflammatory effects.

Most studies recommend about 3 grams of CLA daily to “achieve even a modest fat loss,” Narducci said, adding that it would be tough to get that much from a normal diet. Average adult CLA intake is around 0.2 grams a day from dietary sources.

There are some negative side effects from overdoing it on CLA.

Too much CLA could cause fatigue and gastrointestinal issues. People with diabetes or heart disease, or people on blood-thinning medication, should not take CLA supplements, Narducci said.

CLA supplements may also contain additives that users should be aware of, though the risk is low, said Stephan Esser, a Jacksonville, Florida-based sports and spine physician, and team physician at the University of North Florida.

Most sports medicine doctors do not recommend CLA supplements as a “primary intervention,” Esser said, since “the health benefits of CLA are not definitively proven in the scientific literature.”

When it comes to weight loss and fitness, Esser said, “Many people are looking for a miracle cure. Although CLA can help mildly accelerate weight loss compared to placebo ― along the lines of 0.2 pounds per week or 3 pounds total more than placebo ― no supplement can make up for a healthy lifestyle or be as powerful as excellent nutrition and daily exercise to achieve weight loss goals.”

Here’s how a healthy dose of CLA could change your body composition.

Experts attribute the mixed science on CLA’s effectiveness to the fact that many studies have been animal-focused, and the results may not necessarily apply to humans, Webster said.

“Even though significant benefits haven’t been consistently demonstrated in humans, the benefits seen in animal studies continue to be generalized to people,” she said. “This is misleading and potentially harmful.”

The “possible mechanisms” of how CLA could alter body composition involve metabolic changes, which “favor the reduction of lipogenesis (fat formation) and enhances lipolysis (fat breakdown),” Narducci said.

Research into CLA for weight loss has revealed that it may boost skeletal muscle oxidation, or help burn fat and energy. Some CLA isomers could increase lipolysis, or fat breakdown, and it may also contribute to changing gene expression or control, enabling body fat reduction. CLA may also help reduce abdominal obesity through increased energy expenditure, and help replenish energy, or “glycogen re-synthesis,” after exercise, Narducci said.

It may also fight cancer, but take that with a grain of salt.

Along with its weight-loss and fitness potential, researchers are also looking into CLA’s effectiveness in fighting cancer. Studies show it can reduce tumor proliferation in certain cancer cells and may lower the risk of breast cancer and other cancers.

However, these studies have focused on animals, not humans.

“It has been hypothesized that CLA changes fatty acid metabolism, which in turn may influence the behavior of cancer cells,” said Gary E. Deng, medical director of the Integrative Medicine Services at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

“At this point, it is just a hypothesis based on laboratory studies without support from any controlled human studies,” Deng said. “Numerous substances have been shown to be active in laboratory studies but not active when ingested by humans.”

Deng said he doesn’t recommend CLA supplements for cancer patients “until there are good human studies; we don’t know the net benefit or harm of consuming additional CLA (to treat cancer).”

Like Webster, Deng emphasized that in CLA research, conclusions are often incorrectly attributed to real-life situations.

Medical experts say more research on CLA is needed to truly understand its benefits in weight loss or as a cancer treatment. Until then, they say healthy diets and exercise are the best medicine.

“There may be some benefit on body composition, but additional studies will need to be done comparing CLA consumption alone, physical exercise alone and CLA consumption paired with physical exercise to determine if there is a significant benefit,” Narducci said. “Hopefully these studies will be more coordinated so we can apply them to real-life situations.”

For optimal health, “Diet, diet, diet and exercise is key,” she added. And that diet should include naturally CLA-rich foods ― and probably not Cheez Whiz.


How To Stop Using Exercise As Punishment For What You Eat

For many people, exercise and weight loss are seen as intrinsically linked. Between fitness industry messaging and the pervasive diet culture, it’s no surprise that we’ve developed a harmful connection between what we eat and how much we need to work out.

According to a 2018 study reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of American adults attempted to lose weight between 2013 and 2016. Almost 63% of those people chose exercise as a means to achieve that goal — along with consuming less food.

The desire to lose weight begins at a startlingly young age: The National Eating Disorders Association reports that 40% to 60% of elementary school girls are concerned about their body and weight — a concern that might endure throughout life.

Meanwhile, the fitness industry has long connected working out and losing weight, spreading the harmful belief that exercise is intended to reshape one’s body. Together, these messages can lead to a myriad of unhealthy behaviors, including exercise addiction or compulsive exercise.

The eating disorders association notes there’s a strong link between compulsive exercise and various forms of eating disorders: Between 40% and 80% of anorexia nervosa patients are prone to excessive exercise, and an estimated 90% to 95% of college students with an eating disorder belong to a fitness facility.

Recovery from any eating disorder or even just unhealthy habits can be an ongoing process, and one that often isn’t linear. But if you’ve struggled with exercise in the past, that doesn’t mean you can’t have a healthy relationship with fitness in the future.

This particular journey is one that Dani Tsukerman knows all too well. The fitness trainer and owner of Very Personal Training, a body-positive fitness center in Brooklyn, New York, has struggled with eating disorders since childhood and now aims to help others reframe the way they view exercise and their bodies.

“It’s so important to remember that working out is not a punishment,” Tsukerman told HuffPost. “It is a celebration of what your body can do. It’s an opportunity to achieve, feel strong and grow.”

Carving out a new perspective can be challenging even if you’ve never dealt with an eating disorder. While there’s no universal approach, there are some concrete steps you can take to view fitness as a celebration of your body instead of a punishment.

HuffPost talked with a few experts about ways to reduce anxiety surrounding food and exercise, how to seek joy in movement, and why the fitness industry needs to become more body-positive.


Cavan Images via Getty Images

Choose a workout you’ll truly enjoy.

Restructuring your mindset should begin before your actual workout. When developing a new exercise regimen, for instance, you might want to avoid types of movement you focused on in the past.

“It’s helpful to think about restructuring the environments that lend themselves to exercising compulsively,” said Jessi Haggerty, a Massachusetts-based registered dietitian, intuitive-eating counselor and certified personal trainer. “For example, if running was your primary form of compulsive exercise, try taking a dance class or yoga class and limit running as you reintroduce exercise.”

In addition to avoiding exercises that might be triggering or simply not engaging, think about what you genuinely find fun. Milwaukee-based personal trainer Chrissy King emphasizes the importance of joy within movement.

“We spend so much time absorbing information about how our bodies are ‘supposed’ to look or what we’re ‘supposed’ to eat, and we lose touch with what we actually want and what we desire.”

– Chrissy King, personal trainer

“When it comes to movement and exercise, I encourage my clients to ask themselves, ‘What do I really like to do?’” King said. “Maybe you really love nature, so perhaps your form of movement is hiking or swimming. It’s important to question this because we spend so much time absorbing information about how our bodies are ‘supposed’ to look or what we’re ‘supposed’ to eat, and we lose touch with what we actually want and what we desire.”

For folks who have struggled with an eating disorder in the past, reframing your mindset before exercise might also mean talking with a medical professional.

“For individuals with a history of an eating disorder that included unhealthy exercise behaviors, it’s important to work with a treatment team who can provide recommendations and guidelines for reincorporating exercise into your life,” said Elisha Contner Wilkins, executive director of Veritas Collaborative, a national eating disorder recovery center for children, adolescents and adults. “Know your limits and set boundaries.”

Maintain a healthy mindset before, during and after your workout.

To get into the right headspace prior to exercise, Tsukerman suggests beginning each workout with a mindfulness practice of deep breathing, which can help unite your body and mind.

“Sit in a comfortable position on the floor and relax your neck, shoulders, hips and anywhere else you hold tension,” she said. “Breathe in for a count of five, hold for seven, and then breathe out for five. Repeat as many times as you need. Once you feel more relaxed, set an intention for your workout.”

“Approach each workout by checking in with your body and see how you’re feeling that day.”

– Dani Tsukerman, fitness trainer

Tsukerman added that it’s helpful to know your triggers so you can be on the lookout for them during exercise.

“For some people, setting any kind of goals can be triggering, so if that makes you anxious, just focus on slowing down your breathing so you can be present for your workout,” she said.

“You can even keep a log to jot down what kind of workout you did and rate your feelings,” she said, adding that any such record should be about your emotions and not a workout log.

Wilkins noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way people exercise, leading to a heightened state of anxiety for some folks.

Changes in movement and daily activities can cause an increase in anxiety around exercise in particular, and isolation, news and social media can fuel this anxiety as well,” she said. Wilkins recommends that you implement coping strategies such as journaling, creating art, using mindfulness apps and keeping the lines of communication open with loved ones.

It’s also crucial to listen to your body. Pick a workout based on your body’s needs that day, rather than what you “planned” to do or feel like you “should” do.

“Approach each workout by checking in with your body and see how you’re feeling that day,” Tsukerman said. “Feeling energized and like you can conquer anything? Do some kickboxing or total body workouts. Feeling achy? Work on your flexibility and mobility. Feeling tired? Try a rebalancing yoga flow. It’s all about listening to your body and doing the workout that will make you feel fulfilled inside.”


Oscar Wong via Getty Images

Know that it might take time to fully untangle food and exercise.

This connection has been burned into our minds for years; unlearning it will likely require some work.

We need to reframe how eating and exercise are linked in our brains,” Haggerty said, noting that fitness trackers and weight loss apps make it seem as if our bodies are “like bank accounts.” The reality is quite different.

“If we intend to gain strength, improve cardiovascular conditioning, and get those feel-good endorphins from exercise, we need to fuel our bodies adequately and consistently,” Haggerty said. “If we’re just exercising to ‘burn’ or ‘earn’ our food, we’re going to be left depleted, both physically and mentally. Think about it like this: We need to eat to move, not move to eat.

Think about food as a source of energy, rather than something to be “rid of” after working out.

“We need to eat to exercise,” Wilkins said. “We need to provide fuel … for the activity, just as we would provide fuel for a car.”

“If we’re just exercising to ‘burn’ or ‘earn’ our food, we’re going to be left depleted, both physically and mentally. Think about it like this: We need to eat to move, not move to eat.”

– Jessi Haggerty, registered dietitian

For folks with an eating disorder history, Wilkins emphasized the importance of using recovery-focused techniques, such as journaling or talking with a friend, to cope with anxiety surrounding food and meals.

Of course, food can be much more than fuel. As King put it, “Food is community. Food has cultural meaning. Food reminds us of our families.”

King said that thinking of food purely as energy might take the enjoyment out of it — and it’s OK to give ourselves permission to simply enjoy food. “Food helps us survive, but it can be enjoyable too because it means so much more than that. It’s how we have experiences, it’s how we share love,” she said.

The fitness industry has work to do, too.

Ultimately, this isn’t something individuals must change alone. The fitness industry has continuously perpetuated the idea that exercise should lead to weight loss, when in reality, exercise is meant for all bodies.

There is still a high percentage of exercise professionals with weight bias,” Wilkins said. “Many exercise-related activities are now beginning to include body-positive affirmations as a part of the routine, but there is still a long way to go.

King agreed that the fitness industry has an important role to play in how people approach working out.

“A lot of people get into fitness with the idea that the goal of moving your body is to manipulate or shrink your body,” she said. “As people in the industry, we have to start detaching those things. Because in actuality, that doesn’t have to be the goal at all.”

This story is part of Don’t Sweat It, a HuffPost Life series on improving your relationship with fitness. We’re giving you a guide to the latest thinking on exercise and why we’ve been conditioned to hate it in the past. Mental health and body-positive fitness experts will also offer guidance and show you how to find a routine that works for you. Find all of our coverage here.