With the obesity rates in Eeyou Istchee exploding, it should come as no surprise to anyone that the kinds of products sold to those battling the bulge like so-called “nutrition shakes” have also started to rear their heads around the communities.

Right before Goose Break, we at the Nation were contacted by a doctor at the Cree Board of Health and Social Services of James Bay (CBHSSJB) who had grown concerned over the increasing number Crees going on nutrition-shake diets in an attempt to lose weight. Some were even opting to bring them into the bush for Goose Break to eat as an alternative to traditional food.

This became a cause for concern for Dr. David Dannenbaum as it has always been the position of the CBHSSJB that when it comes to healthy living for Crees, there is nothing better than eating traditional food and obtaining it traditionally as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Beyond the rejection of traditional food, Dannenbaum says that there are a lot of other problems with going on a protein-shake diet plan as they can be a lot of hype and not live up to their promises.

The first issue he outlined is that these products are Big Business.

“The goal of any distributor is to get other people to sell his products, and then he makes more money. Take what they say with caution,” said Dannenbaum.

While the good doctor said it was wonderful how there are so many Crees are concerned about their health and trying to lose weight, these shakes may not be the best way to go about it.

Dannenbaum says the biggest problem with these products is that they are a quick fix that is being applied to a lifelong issue of unhealthy living. And, as a result, they can have consequences such as regaining the weight just as soon as the dieter goes off the shake diet because they did not adopt a healthier lifestyle.

“These shake diets work based on the number of calories available in each portion and some of these shakes are very low in calories. But then when you add things like yoghurt, milk and fruit it adds up.

“As they work totally based on calories in, some people eat only that and starve themselves for the rest of the day,” explained Dannenbaum.

According to Dannenbaum, one way of looking at weight loss is to imagine your body like a bank and your food intake like deposits into an account – calories in, calories out. It does not matter where the calories come from, or how you burn them off, but the balance has to be negative to lose weight.

When it comes to these shakes, the real problem isn’t so much that they don’t work as they do sometimes work in the short term because they are very low in calories. The real problem is that people don’t end up losing weight in a healthy way.

Another issue with these shakes is that while they try and market themselves as an essential ingredient to a “healthy lifestyle”, they often can be anything but that because eating healthy involves more than just “calories in”. It is important to spread your calories over healthy foods including fruits and vegetables, meat and alternatives and dairy to get all of the fibre, protein and vitamins needed to be healthy.

“What ends up happening is that the weight loss isn’t sustainable as it is not a lifestyle change. It is just a quick fix to quickly lose weight. In the long run this is not effective because the problem isn’t just about weight, but rather adopting a healthy lifestyle. Weight gain is a consequence of engaging in an unhealthy lifestyle.

“What people need to ask themselves is if they are living healthy? And if not, how can they eat healthier, and be more active? This is not easy, but the real success stories we see in the communities have found their own solutions to truly make living healthy a priority in their lives,” said Dannenbaum.

Once more, these types of weight-loss products will often boast about the magic type of “science” behind their products with claims that they contain all sorts of special “metabolism boosters” to help their clients.

According to Dannenbaum, there is no science behind these shakes and no such thing as “metabolism boosters” or food you can eat or drink that makes you lose weight.

The only thing that can actually boost an individual’s metabolism is exercise.

“I always think back to something that the pharmacists at the Jewish General Hospital used to say, ‘that your medications are not going to exercise for you!’ The same can be said for these protein shakes – they will not make you live healthy. The focus here needs to be on healthier living and not on weight because you will actually lose weight if you live healthy,” said Dannenbaum.

But what does living healthy actually mean? For some. the attraction to these kinds of products is that they are simple and the meal is portion controlled, even if the product isn’t satisfying.

While some literature on nutrition will say that a portion of protein is comparable to the size of a deck of cards, for individuals who have been consistently overeating for a long time, this may not be very satisfying. There is other literature suggesting you weigh out every single item on your plate, but this can also prove frustrating for many.

“It is important not to turn eating into a science where everything is measured to the gram. Instead, the focus should be on realistic portion sizes – for the unhealthy foods as well as the healthy foods.

“Portion size is a huge problem, especially when people eat in restaurants where you can’t control your portion size. This becomes a real problem as there are many people in the communities who eat out many times a day,” said Dannenbaum.

Instead of measuring out every single bite, Dannenbaum suggests that people simply look at their plates and decide as to whether it is a lot of food or not and whether it is a healthy meal.

For those who don’t know how to prepare meals for themselves in realistic portions, the CBHSSJB provides dieticians or CHRs in every community to consult with and some communities even offer cooking demonstrations.

If you are not sure as to whether or not your diet is suitable for you, the association of Dietitians of Canada has a list of “red flags” on their website to aware of when it comes to selecting a diet and diet products. Your diet may be too good to be true if it:

• promises fast weight-loss (more than 2 pounds /1 kilogram per week);

• recommends a very low calorie diet plan (below 800 calories per day) without medical supervision;

• tries to make you dependent on their company products rather than teaching you how to make good choices from regular grocery-store food;

• does not encourage long-term realistic lifestyle changes including regular exercise and a healthy diet;

• provides weight-loss counselors who do not have any training or qualifications;

• employs salespeople who also act as “counselors”. Weight management counselors may gain from sales commissions on company products. They should not be trying to sell you anything;

• promotes unproven or false weight loss aids like starch blockers or fat burners.

For more info on choosing a weight-loss program and to see more “red flags” for dieting: www.dietitians.ca/Nutrition-Resources-A-Z/Factsheets/Weight-Loss-and-Control/Guidelines-for-Choosing-a-Weight-Loss-Program.aspx