The Teachings of the Medicine Wheel.
Losing weight is soul-crushing; it involves deprivation, shame, and guilt. Most weight loss programs, fads or diets require restricting calories, omitting food groups from your diet, and the sting of failure every time you step on that scale and it fails to reflect your monumental efforts of deprivation. This leads to a downward spiral of negative self-talk and damages your self-worth. When your scale becomes the measure of your self-worth, you will be defeated no matter what the number.
The secret to my weight loss and why I’ve managed to lose 65 lbs and maintain my weight loss over the course of thirteen years and three pregnancies is not an answer most people would expect. It wasn’t Jenny Craig, or Weight Watchers, or the Atkins Diet, or the cabbage soup diet, or the Ideal Protein diet, or weight loss pills like Hydroxycut. Of course, over the years I tried some of these programs, but like most “dieters” I’d lose the weight and it would come back.
My weight loss was soul work. It was healing from childhood trauma, learning self-love, and reframing my relationship with my body. No weight loss coach or points system can do this work. It involved going to therapy, digging up and processing all the painful memories of my mother fat shaming me, being bullied at school, and my hateful thought process about my body.
It was the realization that fad diets and pills were my forms of punishment for hating myself. It was also healing my relationship with food and learning how to use food, not as a coping mechanism, but as a healing force in my life.
In the Women Warriors program we use the Medicine Wheel teaching because, through my experience, I learned good health is about the interconnectedness of our mind, body, and spirit. It is the teaching that without balance in all of these areas, we can never be healthy. When I only focused on the physical aspect of my well being – my weight – I was never successful in keeping it off.
I love the traditional cultural teaching that women are sacred life-givers, and we need to honor our bodies; our bodies are a celebration of our strength and the inherent beauty of our roles as Mothers, sisters, daughters, and aunties.
These teachings are in juxtaposition to popular cultures view of deprivation, and whipping ourselves into the ideal body aesthetic – thigh gaps, six-packs, and as a recent Cosmo headline states “#Buttgoals Shape an Epic Ass in just 8 Minutes a Day.”
As a mother of three daughters ages 8, 6, and 5, I am aware of the importance of role modeling and teaching healthy habits. My collaborator on Women Warriors and obesity expert, Dr. Wicklum states you should never put children on a diet or restrict what they eat, such as limiting carbohydrates.
I eat the food I expect my girls to eat including fruits and vegetable at every meal, and I teach them that food is fuel for our body. Also, I bring them with me to the running track. I make it a fun experience and I talk about how we’re building muscle and gaining strength. Finally, I never use the word “fat” and I never make negative comments about my body or other women’s bodies.
A core message that we share with our participants is that the process of losing and gaining weight is very complex. We should never oversimplify this process or judge others based on their weight. Also, my weight loss is the exception and not the rule. There are many anecdotal stories of weight loss that are misleading and harmful. For example, extreme weight loss stories from the contestants of the Biggest Loser.
Today, I’m grateful for this journey because it fuels my passion – providing free fitness classes, and nutrition education, with an emphasis on holistic health with Women Warriors. This quote by George Leonard rings true for me every day: “The work we do on ourselves is the work we do on the world.”
This column appeared in the Yellowknife newspaper on April 2nd, 2018. You can subscribe and view stories from the North on their website: Northern News Services.
Updates on Onion Lake Cree Nation (OLCN) Program
As most of you know, I was not a researcher when this program started (which is the reason I returned to university – so that I can be involved and informed) and I’ve been learning along the way. I like to tell all of you so you know what’s involved in projects like Women Warriors. I wish it was quicker, but we’ve made progress and hopefully, we’ll start in May!
Indigenous women have been described as facing a “double-burden” – for being discriminated against as a woman and further for being Indigenous. If we add weight bias, defined by the Canadian Obesity Network www.obesitynetwork.ca as “the negative stereotyping of individuals living with obesity,” some Indigenous women experience a triple burden. It is important to be aware of these concepts to understand the dynamics at work when Indigenous women access services, programs, or health care.Some people may feel scared to see their doctor and confront their health issues. Please keep in mind that Indigenous women may be deterred from seeing their doctor due to their anxiety about systemic racism within the healthcare system, or made to feel bad about their weight or health issues.
Often people in positions of authority, like a doctor, can make women second-guess themselves. They may leave their doctor’s appointment feeling insecure about their ability to effectively communicate and/or feel it is a waste of time to seek help from someone who is not culturally sensitive.
The best way to prepare them is to have a discussion about their previous experiences:
- Do you get the help you are seeking when you visit your family physician?
- Have you had a negative experience with the medical system?
- Have you brought along a family member to support you at your doctor’s appointment?
- What would make you feel prepared to have a good visit with your family doctor?
Remind them that a family doctor is on a set schedule of appointments and that they may feel rushed when they visit them. If this is the case, they should tell their doctor all of their concerns and then prioritize them and, as necessary, talk to their doctor about setting up multiple appointments to address all of their health concerns.
Over the past two years of creating and facilitating the Women Warriors 8 Weeks to Healthy Living Program, I have heard many stories from participants regarding racism within the health care system and their frustration receiving quality care as an obese patient. The primary purpose of our program is to provide free fitness classes and nutrition education with an Indigenous focus. Our secondary function is to help participants connect with health care professionals, and teach participants to become their own best advocates within the healthcare system.
The above information was from my podcast interview with Dr. Sonja Wicklum, co-founder of the Women Warriors program, family medical doctor, and clinical assistant professor in the department of family medicine of the University of Calgary.
In our podcast interview, she states, “I tell my own patients that our system is not set up for long visits as a rule. If you have multiple questions prioritize them and then if the answers take a significant amount of time for the first few, then book back for the next week and ask more questions. Your physician will have no problem doing that. I think you have to have an element of practicality about our health care system.”
Please view this article, based on the research by Dr. Lindsay Crowshoe, family doctor and associate professor at the University of Calgary’s department of family medicine & Dr. Rita Henderson, department of family medicine (both researchers on Women Warriors).