If you or a loved one were diagnosed with elevated cholesterol, would weight loss be the first thing on your mind?
September is National Cholesterol Education Month and I would like to share information about cholesterol and cardiovascular health. Intentional weight loss will not be a focus; rather, the focus will be on promoting health behaviors that are within our control.
What is cholesterol?
Cholesterol is a waxy substance found in the blood. It is manufactured in your liver and also obtained through your diet. Foods rich in cholesterol are animal products and include meat, fish, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk.
Our bodies need cholesterol for all of its cells, but high levels of circulating cholesterol can lead to fatty deposits in your blood vessels, which can eventually break off and cause a heart attack or stroke.
What are the risk factors for heart disease and who gets high cholesterol?
Heart disease and elevated cholesterol levels do not discriminate. All bodies can be at risk. Risk factors that are out of our control include:
- being male,
- being post-menopausal,
- advancing age,
- family history,
- having diabetes,
- having a low socio-economic status and
- poor access to health care.
Risk factors for heart disease that are within our control include:
- physical inactivity,
- uncontrolled blood pressure,
- uncontrolled stress,
- alcohol use and
- diet containing high amounts of dietary fat and low intake of fruits and vegetables.
Although studies report that “obesity” is a modifiable risk factor for heart disease, the Health at Every Size® literature does not support intentional weight loss. We know that most, if not all, diets fail by five years, and repeated bouts of weight cycling is reported to be a risk factor for heart disease as well.
Elevated cholesterol in individuals with eating disorders
Many of the clients I work with in eating disorder recovery tell me they have elevated blood cholesterol levels and have been advised to limit their intake of cholesterol, fat and saturated fat, as well as lose weight. It is important to point out that starvation causes elevated blood cholesterol levels. This starvation can be seen in people of all body weights, from small to larger-bodied individuals who are chronic dieters. Therefore, a blanket recommendation of weight loss can inadvertently encourage disordered eating.
Here is an article on heart disease, along with tips for heart health, written by Kimberly Singh, MS, RDN.
Learning this about your body can change your life
written by Kimberly Singh, MS, RDN
Heart disease and elevated cholesterol after menopause
Can I improve heart health and practice intuitive eating without a focus on weight loss?
As many messages around improving heart health are rooted in weight loss, it is increasingly difficult for those practicing intuitive eating to learn how they can continue listening to their body’s hunger and fullness cues while promoting their heart health.
The first thing to keep in mind is that your body is not to blame. People in all size bodies develop elevated cholesterol and are at risk of heart disease.
For those individuals curious about how to support their heart health, I encourage you to explore gentle nutrition and intuitive eating when you are ready. As you consider these recommendations, I urge you to incorporate these in your life at your pace and with curiosity, remembering that judgment and harshness with not bring you closer towards health.
Tips for Heart Health
Food intake and movement patterns are within your control:
- Find new ways of incorporating fruits and vegetables that leave you feeling satisfied.
- Try adding in some meat-free, vegetarian meals. Vegetarian meals are generally lower in saturated fats and are a good source of fiber.
- Seek out recipes that interest you. I do not recommend relying on old recipes that you used when you were dieting that may not be conducive towards healing your relationship with food. This can be a fun and curious process that allows you to try foods you have not tried before.
- Consider eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon, tuna, walnuts, and flax seeds. If you struggle with including these foods in your diet, you might try taking a supplement.
- Incorporate joyful movement into your life. This is movement that allows space for compassion around what your body can do that makes you feel more connected to yourself. Curvy yoga instructors generally know how to accommodate various levels of experience and flexibility. Remember that bodies change, and accepting that what your body can do now is not a failure but rather a step towards improving health and supporting the body you have today.
- Find ways to cope with stress. As the added stress of middle-age enters your life, try to create time dedicated towards self-care. This self-care will look different for different people. It may be reading a book, doing a guided meditation, or watching your favorite television show. Don’t hesitate to seek support in your loved ones and/or a mental health professional as needed.
- Seek out healthcare professionals to monitor your health. This is difficult for people of size that have experienced healthcare providers making stigmatizing comments about their bodies. Try to find a network of Health at Every Size providers in your area that have an understanding of the role of weight stigma on health.
ONLINE PROGRAMS TO HELP YOU MAKE PEACE WITH YOUR BODY AND FOOD
Intuitive Eating Essentials for Midlife, Menopause and Beyond: This is a self-paced program that explores your relationship with food, your dieting history, readiness to integrate intuitive eating into your life, and teaches you how to use your values to make peace with food. Click here for all the details!