Healthy Eating

The Top 7 Food Myths

“Humans are the only species that need to be taught how to eat.”
Michael Pollan

I frequently run into the same misinformation regarding nutrition over and over, and it never ceases to upset me how people are tricked into believing complete nonsense. There’s a number of interesting psychological reasons why smart people believe blatant rubbish, but let’s just dig into the myths themselves:

Myth 1: Superfoods Exist

Repeat after me. There is no such thing as a superfood. In nutrition, there are a number of terms that are regulated, meaning foods have to meet certain criteria in order to have those terms on their labels. The FDA and their international equivalents have defined certain food packaging terms, such as “low,” “reduced,” “high,” “free,” “lean,” “good source of,” “light,” and so on. The term “Superfood” has no regulation or definition. It means nothing. You can print the word “Superfood” on a packet of jelly beans without legal recourse.

Colloquially, “Superfood” is used to describe foods that are really good for you for some perceived reason. In the best cases, these are foods that have a large amount or large variety of vitamins and minerals (what the FDA would define as being a “good source of..”). In the more misleading cases, the term is applied to foods with purported-but completed unsubstantiated-health benefits. A good example of the latter is coconut oil. Coconut oil is said to cure almost every health problem you can think of, fix your split ends, moisturize your skin, and housebreak your cat to boot. Okay, I made that last one up, but a lot of ridiculous claims are made about it. In reality, coconut oil is a high calorie, nutritionally inferior source of saturated fat with no magical powers (other than than an impressive ability to clog your arteries when consumed in large quantities).

In moderation coconut oil, along with all the other so-called superfoods, are fine. Some are even healthy as part of a balanced and varied diet. The problem I have with the term Superfood is that it implies a shortcut to complete nutrition where one doesn’t exist, and it offers a license to over-consume. Why eat numerous different boring vegetables when chia seeds will solve all your nutritional needs?

The only positive thing to be said for “Superfood” is that you can quickly identify if someone has a clue what they are talking about based on whether they use this term when seriously discussing nutrition!

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Except Coffee… Coffee cures everything!

Myth 2. Chocolate Doesn’t Give You Pimples

First we were told chocolate gives you acne. Then we were told it didn’t. Both statements are simultaneously correct and incorrect, using a Schrödinger’s Nutrition sort of logic. Chocolate does cause acne. But it doesn’t cause acne because it’s chocolate; it causes acne because it’s full of sugar.

Acne is uniquely endemic to the Western world, and recent studies have indicated that acne during the teen years is a signal of larger health issues in later life. The reason is that that both acne, and the most common causes of death and disability in the Western world are all symptoms of prolonged inflammation. The are many causes of inflammation in the Standard American Diet, namely sugar, processed and refined foods, dairy, excess protein and animal products, and all the numerous weird and wonderful chemicals that wind up in our food supply.

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Chocolate will cause AND hide your pimples!

If you want to cut down on acne, and major health issues, limit or eradicate all inflammatory foods from your diet… including chocolate. Sorry. It gets worse. Not only will you be in chocolate withdrawal, but all your immediate family members will begin to accuse you of being orthorexic….

Myth 3. Orthorexia is a Real Disorder

This armchair diagnosis popped up over the last few years as an apparent reaction to the waves of people who are jumping on the clean-eating wagon. In a nutshell, orthorexia is being so obsessed with eating clean that it becomes a psychological compulsion.

The problem with this condition is that it doesn’t exist. Anorexia and bulimia are in the DSM5. Orthorexia is not. There certainly are people who have a clinically relevant disorder that manifests as an obsession with an unobtainable standard of nutritional purity. There are also people that have a clinically relevant disorders that manifest as compulsive couch stuffing eating, paint drinking, car consummating, or baby-powder snorting.* The DSM5 doesn’t have separate categories for people who compulsively eat cigarette ash or cat hair. They, like “orthorexia” are all manifestations of a broader underlying disorder; they are not distinct disorders in and of themselves. And before you use the tired, “Well, the DSM5 reported homosexuality as a mental disorder until recently,” argument, be warned, I will come to your house and bonk you on the head with a copy of the DSM5 if you do.

The number of people with an actual disorder likely represents less than 1% of all the people who have been accused of being orthorexic. The remainder of the accusations are levied against people out of resentment; on an individual level by the less healthy who perceive healthy living as an affront to their own lifestyles, or on an larger level by business interests that have a vested interest in preventing people from pursuing healthier lifestyles (fast food restaurants, pesticide manufacturers, etc.).

The simple fact is that we as a society have been eating garbage for so long that it has now become the norm. It now seems crazy to question whether the standard diet is healthy, whether our food companies or government bodies have our health as their number one priority, or to take the enormous amount of effort that is now required to eat and live healthfully. There’s no good solution here. Just keep your cool, give anyone who shows a genuine interest any information they need, and keep pursuing your own good health.

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Answer: No.

Myth 4. Do What Healthy People Do

We love shortcuts and quick fixes. From all the research into why certain populations have longer life expectancies, instead of looking at the whole body of results, we want a single line item explaining what we can shove into our daily routine to increase our longevity. But it’s not that simple. Adding the daily recommended intake of fruit or the extract of green tea in capsule form to your otherwise disastrous daily routine of getting all your food handed to you through your car window, and being sedentary for most of your waking hours won’t make you outlive a Blue Zone population. You need to look at every difference between their lifestyle and yours. And the most important things usually aren’t what they do; they’re what they don’t do. They don’t eat processed foods. They aren’t sedentary. They don’t eat whopping amounts of protein or animal products. Certainly, the intake of fruit, green tea or other miracle superfoods will afford these populations a small amount protection against cancer or heart disease, but the largest impact on longevity comes from the fact that they don’t do things that increase their risk of debilitating disease in the first place.

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I dropped that juice capsule somewhere around here…

Myth 5. Do What Cavemen Do

The most amusing fad diet of recent years is the Paleo diet. Emulate the diet of humans from an era when life expectancy was 35.4 years? Awesome plan. No real idea what proportion of their diet was animal products? Just guesstimate (and by all means round up). I get dragged into a lot of inane “What we’re meant to be eating” arguments, where I am expected to argue on behalf of veganism from an evolutionary standpoint. There certainly are a lot of sound arguments to be made for veganism, but it’s still the wrong question to be asking in the first place.

A friend of mine argued that we are clearly meant to eat meat because humans can utilize creatine from animal sources, whereas our closest great ape relatives cannot. It stands to reason that humans, particularly those in Northern climates, would adapt to consume animal products. But that doesn’t mean we’re meant to do so, or that any adaptation to those food sources has rendered them healthy for us.

First, we need to think about what Evolution is actually a measure of. Health or longevity? Nope. Evolution is a measure of your ability to produced more viable offspring than other species or communities around you. It does not measure if you managed to live long enough to see your great-grandchildren. Evolution needs you to stay alive long enough to breed a few times, and maybe even get your offspring into adulthood. But that’s it. Like elderly lions, once your children are old enough to fend for themselves (in cavemen times, that would have been somewhere in their mid-teens), you can wander and die as far as evolution is concerned.

This is the subtle yet important difference between performance and health. Performance is the ability to be stronger and outperform others in a certain task for a finite period, even if that performance is to the detriment of your future health. Health is a measure of how long you are likely to live, and what that quality of life will be. Think of it this way, anabolic steroids are classified as a performance enhancing drugs; I doubt anyone has ever called them a health enhancing drugs.

The correct question to be asking is what diet and lifestyle choices are associated with the best health and longevity outcomes. The vegan diet is the only one that has shown improved health outcomes in large-scale, long term studies. Aside from the obvious China Study which is largely correlative, mechanistic studies also bear out this conclusion. A great resource is the annual presentations of the year’s scientific studies that Dr. Greger puts out in nutritionfacts.org every year (see below for resources).

That being said, the healthiest diet for you is the one you are going to follow. If veganism won’t work for you, and there are a multitude of reasons people can’t go vegan, the paleo diet, which focuses on organic, whole foods, and a reduction or elimination of refined and processed sugars, is probably the second best option. Just don’t try to sell me on making a caveman my diet guru!

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Just like they ate in the Paleolithic era….

Myth 5. Go Low Carb/Vegan/Gluten-Free/Dairy-Free to Lose Weight

There are numerous diets in existence that promise dramatic weight loss if you just cut some category of food from your diet. The more recent examples are gluten or carbs. These diet plans are usually accompanied by some sort of pseudoscience to explain why cutting this one food type from your diet will cause you to lose weight, but in all cases, the weight loss comes from a temporary restriction of calories. Sadly, the weight-loss itself is accordingly temporary.

The reason these diets result in temporary weight loss is that when you suddenly stop eating a type of food that accounted for a reasonably substantial percent of your daily calories; you generally don’t replace it with an equally caloric alternative at first. But over time, you will find the gluten-free cookies at your local grocery store, or the vegan restaurant that serves a delicious soy milkshake, and before you know it, you have regained whatever weight you lost, and maybe more. This effect is amplified by the increased availability of “gluten-free” or “low carb” products as the diets increased in popularity. Once upon a time, going gluten-free probably did equate to good health and weight loss, as you were effectively forced to eat whole foods. However, over time the food companies saw the demand for gluten-free foods, and responded with a king’s bounty of sugary, gluten-free treats. Nowadays, you can go gluten-free and actually eat an increased amount of refined carbs and sugars!

NOT a weight-loss food!

NOT a weight-loss food!

That’s not to say that there aren’t great health reasons to cut gluten, dairy or other unhealthy types of food from your diet, but you can’t expect them to be long-term, weight-loss strategies on their own. Ultimately, all weight loss boils down to thermodynamics, i.e. calories in versus calories out.

Myth 6. Just Cut Calories to Lose Weight

So I should just track calories, but otherwise go nuts right? Not so fast. While all weight loss boils down to thermodynamics, sustainable and healthy weight loss is a combination of calorie control and the quality of food consumed.

Recently, there was a news story about a teacher who lost 40 lbs eating nothing but McDonald’s to prove a point to his students. I have no idea what horrific point he was making, but there’s a lot more to health and weight loss than the number on the scale. For starters, I am sure his blood work would paint the picture of someone in terrible health if he had maintained that diet. He might meet the definition of “TOFI” (thin outside, fat inside), in which the amount of hormone-producing fat with in the abdomen is equivalent to that of an obese person, without the actual obesity. In a nutshell, thin does not mean healthy!

Another issue with this McDiet (or any other calorie-cutting only diet), is that over time, people eating restricted amounts of unhealthy foods will bit-by-bit fall back into eating excessive amounts of food. High fat/sugar/sodium foods are nutrient poor and calorie dense. The result is that they leave you feeling hungry sooner. Unless you are incredibly disciplined, you will inevitably end up eating more and more over time. These foods are also addictive, so when you crave more food, instead of desiring nutrient dense food, you crave more of the same junk food.

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Why You’re Hungry 30 Minutes After Eating

Yet another concern about relying on calorie cutting is the impact on the midsection. If you’re looking for a ripped six-pack, you’re not going to get there without clean eating. Even if you stick to 1,200 or 1,400 calories, you’re going to find getting defined abs tricky if those 1,400 calories are all coming from Snickers bars. Sugar and refined carbs hit the blood rapidly, and cause a massive dump of insulin, which in turn sends all the sugar to be converted to midsection fat. A great example of this is the toddler. They typically don’t eat a lot, but they are little sugar junkies. The end result is skinny little limbs and a pot-belly. Cute on toddlers, not so much on adults.

The answer is to be cognizant of your overall calorie intake, but more focused on the quality of food you are eating. High fibre, high nutrient, low calorie foods are going to keep you fuller longer, give you a healthy body, and help you maintain a healthy weight.

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Sugar is similar to oil in this illustration

Myth 7. You Can Take Shortcuts

There are no shortcuts in nature. Show me a shortcut, and I will show you a negative consequence. Anabolic steroids will get you “swole”, but they leave you with the testosterone of a prepubescent girl and the vasculature of a 90-year-old smoker. Low carb or high fats will help you drop weight fast, but the results with be short-lived and your triglycerides will end up through the roof as a result. Cleanses and juice fasts will help you lose pounds in a matter of days, but your weight loss will include losing muscle mass, and the pounds will come back as soon as you return to your normal diet. Capsulated fruit and vegetables will give you (limited) nutrients, but rob you of all the stomach-filling fibre and water than whole fruit offers. Diet pills might help you lose weight, but if they act by a mechanism other than a placebo effect, they do so by stimulating you so much that you can kiss goodbye to sleeping or not feeling shaky ever again.

For long-lasting, healthy weight loss and bodybuilding, there are no shortcuts. Get rid of the idea of “going on a diet” or “doing an intensive 6-week exercise plan.” Eat whole, plant-based foods in sensible amounts, exercise regularly, and lose weight on the same exercise and nutrition regimen that you plan to follow for the rest of your life.

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Here’s your diet and exercise plan!

Video resources from Nutrition Facts (Dr. Greger):

1. From Table to Able:

2. More Than an Apple a Day:

3. Food as Medicine:

4. Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death:

 

* All real behaviours from My Strange Addiction.

Learning to Love Yourself

I have been meaning to write about this topic for a long time. I was recently spurred to action by a conversation with a friend where we shared tales of how we speak to ourselves. If we are dealing with a friend who has fallen off the wagon or fallen short of a weight goal, we are supportive and constructive in our responses. When we are dealing with ourselves we are judgmental and cruel.

I have spoken to a lot of people about weight loss goals over the last few years, and one common misconception a lot of people seem to have is that meeting our weight goals will magically make us go from hating our bodies to loving our bodies. Not true. Being comfortable in your own skin is a skill that needs to be practiced from the very first day you start practicing portion control or a new exercise regime.

I am by no means an expert on being completely kind and loving to oneself, but I have come a long way from being a completely self-destructive bulimic (in large part thanks to DDP Yoga), so I thought I would share what has worked for me in the hopes it can help others to do the same.

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Early in my DDP Yoga journey, I stumbled up the story of the woman in this picture, Taryn Brumfitt. She is my hero. She loves her body before (when she was a fitness model) and she loves it after (with a “mom” body). She is a phenomenal role model for how we should treat ourselves.

Women can be especially prone to hating their bodies, and harboring negative thoughts about themselves. We should love everything about ourselves, and we have to actively and consciously work on undoing all the years of negativity we have had drummed into us from various sources in society.

I’m betting the majority of us who do DDP Yoga took it up because we wanted to lose weight. That’s great. It’s great to be on a healthy path and a journey of self-improvement. However, DDP Yoga is all about health, and a happy, positive view of ourselves is part of that health. It is not a good idea to wait to get to your weight goals and assume that self-acceptance will magically happen once you get there. It won’t. The journey to our weight goals and good health will be a lot smoother and more enjoyable if we feel comfortable in our own skin from the get-go.

I spent a long time hating myself and my body. During that time I thought of my body as a completely separate entity from myself, and I worked against it. By “worked against it” I mean I abused it with eating disorders, substance abuse, dangerous workout regimes, followed by a period of completely giving up, which led to an unhealthy sedentariness and overeating. Thanks to the lessons of DDP Yoga, and the supportive community I found with it, I finally started to think of my body as part of me. That led me to the realization that I needed to get to a place where I loved and appreciated my body. Having never done that before, it didn’t come naturally to me. I took a series of conscious and proactive steps toward accepting and loving myself. Here’s what I did, hope it helps:

Step 1: What don’t you hate?

Write down one thing you love about your body. Something that you really enjoy about it. And no passive aggressive frenemy bullshit like “I love how my ugly fat can be hidden with black clothes.” Something you actually enjoy about your body! Anytime you have a negative thought about your body, read that note of positivity, or say it out loud over and over until you have expelled the negative thought from your mind. Or just think about that part of your body, even when you’re not feeling bad about yourself. Go look at it in the mirror, or post a picture on Instagram. Over time, try to add more and more physical features into the mix.

Step 2: You’re Amazing

Continuing with this theme, think about how amazing your body is, and all the incredible things it has done for you. Take a few minutes to think about one amazing feat that your body did for you, and why you are grateful to your body for it! I’m amazed that my body allowed me to have a painless, natural childbirth. I’m also amazed it ran a marathon and up the Hancock building in spite of what my negative physical therapist predicted it would ever be able to do. Yes my body has stretch marks below my belly button, but it gave me a beautiful daughter, and allowed me to have a perfectly natural and painless birth of a 9 lb 7 oz baby who was born in under 20 minutes. Yes I have a pretty gross damaged vein on my right ankle, but that ankle is part of the legs that ran twenty-six point frickin’ two miles after only 1.5 hours of sleep!

It’s certainly important to love how your body looks. But it’s also really important not to lose track of all the other things your body does for you. Appearance is just one facet of our bodies’ worth. Our bodies are these amazing machines that have allowed us to every wonderful experience we have ever had, and have enabled us to achieve any success we have ever enjoyed. They have been our loyal companions, and the least we could do is take the time to appreciate the things they have done for us instead of calling them “fat” or “ugly.”

Step 3: Eye of the Beholder

When we look at ourselves, we don’t look at the whole picture; we hone in on one specific feature, usually the one we like the least, and amplify the impact is has out of all proportion. When we look at other people, we look at the whole person. We still see their flaws but we see them in context. The person may have a crooked tooth or a pimple, but their attractive features outweigh their shortcomings.

Think about nice things have other people have said about your body or your looks? What do you get compliments on most frequently?

How do you take compliments? Do you allow your own self-esteem interfere with your ability to accept the praise, or do you thrive a little too much on it, as if you were trying to replace an internal sense of self worth with external accolades? What can you do to be more at ease with the nice sentiments people offer you?

Next time you look at yourself in the mirror, try to stand back and take in the whole picture. Not just one little blemish or unattractive feature. Also, try to look at the feature that elicited compliments from others and see what it was they saw.

This is an incredibly nerdy reference… We’re probably soulmates if you got it!

 Step 4: Seeking Own Worst Critic, Apply Within.

What thing(s) do you hate most about your body? What makes you shudder when you see it in the mirror, makes you change the clothing options you allow yourself, makes you hide it from other people’s view?

Rather than just reinforcing your feelings of self-loathing, try to really examine what exactly you feel about this feature. Anger, sadness, embarrassment? What exactly is about this feature that evokes this response? Remind yourself that your extra fat, loose skin, wrinkles, zits are just some of cells that make up your body, which in turn is only one part of the many things that make up you. Remind yourself of all the other things that make up you. Are you a great mom, do you excel in your career, are you an amazing cook, a great friend?

To gain some perspective, if you saw someone else with this “shortcoming”, would you think they should feel that way? Would you be as revolted if you saw it in someone else? (spoiler: the answer is no!) What would you tell someone else by way of advise about an issue they had with their body in order to give them some perspective, and to help them love their body as a whole, and to stop focusing on one minor flaw? Try to see yourself that same way, and to counsel yourself the way you would counsel someone else in your situation.

Please think of more ways to love everything about your body, even the things you dislike the most. When you are evaluating your own body, please remember that you are a much harsher judge of how you look that anyone else. In this article from the (ugh) Daily Mail, women consistently judge themselves as being heavier than they actually are in a silhouette test. You do this too!

And this Dove short film speaks for itself. Please watch it; it’s really powerful:

I hope this helps. If you think of anything else that could benefit those on a similar journey please let me know and I will add it it. Loving ourselves is an evolving journey and these are only the first steps. I am still on this path, and I will share more in the future as I learn more myself.

Website 2.0…….. Liz 1.08.27.003.98

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I experienced series of unfortunate events recently, and the end result has been some weight gain. The weight gain could have been avoided, and while there are mitigating circumstances, I am choosing to avoid using those circumstances to excuse what has happened, and instead really learn from them so that I can be even better prepared for next time I encounter hurdles.

I wish!

A quick synopsis first: I came to DDP Yoga tipping the scales at 198 lbs. I quickly lost the weight and got down to 145 lbs and it then became time for the maintenance phase. Over the course of a year, my weight crept up by 10 lb. Then in the last month, I had a really bad cold that knocked me out of action for a couple of weeks. I was back in action for about a week before I cracked my rib, and I have been completely out of action ever since. Coupled with the holidays and my own shortcomings, the weight jumped by another 10 lbs, and that was all it took for me to do some real thinking about what has been going wrong, and I what I need to do to get back to where I should be!

Here’s What Happened:

1. Side-effects Of Medication.

In addition to many other things DDP Yoga enabled me to do, I was able to take up running. I achieved many things running (a full marathon, a wall of medals, a great sense of achievement), but I also achieved a nasty cluster of migraines which appear to have been caused by excessive exercise/electrolyte balance. I started taking amitriptyline which worked great for the migraines, but does have the nasty habit of making you gain weight. In addition to the straight-forward weight gain side-effect, the amitriptyline likely contributed to my gradual weight gain in a second way by increasing my resting and working heart rate. This increased heart rate gets interpreted by my heart rate monitor as more calories burned, thus allowing me to eat more that I probably should. Ideally, I would like to manage my electrolytes better and stop taking amitriptyline within the next year!

2. I’m Liz, And I’m A Compulsive Eater:

I am a food addict. There’s all sorts of interesting reasons as to why I ended up looking for love and fulfillment at the bottom of a candy wrapper, but the point is that I have no power over food. Other people can open a packet of gluten-free cookies, eat three with a cup of coffee, seal the packet up and put them back in the cabinet. I can’t. Stacey Morris can make any number of delicious 8 – 12 serving desserts, eat a single portion, and stick the rest in the fridge. I can’t. I am addicted to sugar and I am a compulsive over-eater, and in all likelihood I will have to actively keep that in check for the remainder of my life. In addition, the food supply is addictive by design. We are flooded with sugar and refined carbs that light up your brain in the same was cocaine does. It’s no accident that so many of us are overweight. While I adhered to the letter of the DDP Yoga nutrition program, I didn’t always adhere to the spirit. I replaced the Dairy and Gluten free junk I used to eat with all-natural, whole ingredient treats like raw, organic almond butter or Larabars, but I still ate way too much of it. I tricked myself into thinking I could have a packet of Larabars in the house, but the packet was always empty by the end of the day. A Larabar is great snack. A Larabar. One. Eight of them is not good for you and overloads your system with excess sugar, which gets turned into fat.

3. To Count Or Not To Count:

After a few month of maintaining, I decided to quit MyFitnessPal, and stick with healthy eating to maintain my weight. That has worked for a number of people such as Stacey Morris, but given my recent weight gain, both the slow crawl to 155, and the more recent rapid jump to 165, I think we can safely assume I need a more rigorous regimen. Between weight-gain from amitriptyline, my overeating and the effect of Leptin (thanks for nothing, Mother Nature), the lack of monitoring let small amounts of over-eating and self-denial creep in.

4. Not Sharing:

When I first started this journey, I shared every single fat-roll, failed forearm balance, or diet malfunction I had. That made the success all the more sweet, and it helped other people realize they could find success, even with personal shortcomings and minor failures and setbacks. However, since I became a nutritionist, a DDP Yoga instructor, and more visible within the DDP Yoga community, I found it harder and harder to share the weak moments and shortcomings. Who wants to take nutritional advice from a failure? This was of course a self-imposed hurdle. No one in the community would have judged me, and clients understand that fitness coaches and nutritionists are people too! The problem is that failure thrives in the dark. When I had the first episode of over-indulging, had I shared it, that would have been it. But I didn’t, and it became a weird mix of exciting and shameful. That triggers the next episode of over-eating, and the next, and the next. The other issue is that hiding your mistakes allows you to believe your own nonsense without reasoned input from your peers, such as “muscle weighs considerably more than fat” (it doesn’t).

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Here’s What I Am Going To Do:

1. Be Honest

I’m going to post my eating on MyFitnessPal every single day, regardless of what I eat. I am not going to be hiding my weight gain, my diet, my failures or successes any more. I will be much better about sharing either here, on YouTube or via Twitter. I will also be logging everything I eat, ill-advised or otherwise, in MyFitnessPal (no more mystery missing days!).

2. Be Mindful

I am going spend the next few months learning how to be more mindful about eating. These include but are not limited to: a brief meditation before eating any food (and more meditation in general), a large glass of water before food, all food on a plate, all plates at at table, no iPhones/computers while eating, fork down between bites. I will be implementing these bit-by-bit, and I am sure I will forget from time-to-time. That’s okay. This is a journey. I’ll be re-reading Mark Van Buren’s incredibly insightful book, Be Your Sh*tty Self to remind myself of the importance of mindfulness.

3. Stay Home

I have been eating take-out way too much recently. Even though I go to better restaurants than I did before, and keep within my vegan and GF food restrictions, eating at home will always be better where portion control, ingredient quality and calorie counting is concerned.

4. Be Consistent

I had been adjusting my food intake to match my calorie output. That worked for weight loss, but it didn’t work for healthy habit formation. My maintenance goal was about 1800 calories per day. If I ran for 30 minutes and burned 400 calories, that would allow me to eat 2200 calories (or an extra two Choco Boom Boom bars). Overtime, that turned into making exercise decisions based on knowing I had some Larabars at home that I may want to attack later, which in turn became a bad habit of overeating first and then exercising the excess of later. This ended up with me being used to having a huge calorie intake on a daily basis, and thus a rather quick weight gain as soon as I became sick or injured. I was talking with a friend who is also an overeater, but who has lost a lost a larger amount of weight than I did and has successfully kept the weight off. She eats roughly the same number of calories day in, day out regardless of what she has done for exercise. Obviously, when I am running full marathons, I may carb up in advance, but short of that, I will be following a more consistent approach with my diet.

5. Work With What’s Available

I routinely tell people who are experiencing injury to use the time to focus on nutrition. That’s great advice, so it boggles the mind as to why I typically use injury (or other impediment to exercise) as an excuse to fall off the nutritional wagon too! I am going to be side-lined for at least a couple of weeks with my stupid rib injury, so I will be using that time to really nail down good, healthy eating habits.

Here’s What I Am NOT Going To Do:

1. No reboots, Liz 2.0’s Or Do-overs

There’s only one me, there will only ever be one me. I don’t get to scrap the old one every time I make a mistake. I am stuck with myself for the rest of my life, and with all the scars, extra weight, and other reminders of where I have been and what I have done. And that’s a good thing. If I scrapped all the memories and lessons of my first time through the weight loss process, and pretended this was my day 1 again, I’d lose a massive opportunity to learn both what did work last time thought, and what didn’t worked. This is not a second weight loss journey. This is all part of my one and only weight loss journey.

Couldn’t have put it better myself!

2. No Taboos

I consider myself a gluten-free vegan, and avoiding foods that contain those things has become second nature to me. I am no longer tempted by Dairy Milk or Hershey’s, so that is not an issue. I am, however, struggling to be a sugar-free, gluten-free vegan, and I am extremely tempted to Choco Boom Boom bars, Larabars or Amy’s gluten free chocolate chip cookies! Instead of saying, “I will never eat gluten-free cookies again,” which invariably leads to me thinking of nothing but cookies, I instead will say, “I am avoiding them for now.” And when I reach my weight goal, I will buy a single Larabar rather than a bulk-purchase. For most people, the multipack is better value, because it costs less per bar, but that saving only works if you don’t eat the entire packet that day! In the meantime, I will be focusing on developing the habit of turning to cucumber, apples, celery or other whole foods for snack-time!

3. No Labels, No Bullying

I am a little heavier than I would like to be. I feel healthier when I am leaner, and I struggle with feelings of regret for having given into food addiction and squandering the weight goals I achieved. However, this is temporary. I will regain my weight goals. In the meantime, I will not be defined by the extra weight I am carrying in my midsection. I don’t like how I look right now as much as I liked how I looked at 140 lbs, so instead of spending hours staring at the mirror and beating myself up for what I don’t like, I will choose not to look in the mirror. And when I do, I will actively force myself to be positive and focus on things I do like. Similarly, I will not call myself some of the horrific names I used to call myself, or bully myself for having weak moments or setbacks. I frequently explain to people that they should treat themselves as they would others. If your friend came to you, and said, “I feel awful, I broke my diet and demolished an entire pack of Oreos,” you wouldn’t tell her she’s a fat, worthless, pig, nor would you berate her at length for tripping up. No, aside from the fact that you would have to be a horrible, evil person to treat someone that way, you are also aware that it wouldn’t help anything. After being treated that way, your friend would end up in a shame-spiral and would probably end up overeating again to bury those feelings. The exact same thing happens when you treat yourself that way.

So that is my now, very public, setback and roadmap to getting back to where I was. I will update this post with my weight every week until I get to my target (below 147):

  • 12/01: 167 lbs
  • 12/08: 160 lbs

 

But Where Do You Get Your Protein?

protein-cartoon[7]If there were a Buzzfeed list of “15 Things Vegans Totally Understand,”* the headaches caused by excessive eye-rolling in response to being asked, “But, where do you get your protein from?” would be topping that list.

The misconceptions about protein stem, in large part, from dietary information we are fed (pun!) by our governments and medical professions, namely, that you need to eat meat and dairy for protein and calcium. The argument that gets bandied about in favor of animal protein is that animal products are the only source of all essential amino acids. Even if the “only source of esssential amino acids” argument were actually true (it’s not), it’s still not a valid argument against a plant-based diet.

My own doctor had a minor conniption when I said I was vegan, and started rattling off buzzwords like, “essential amino acids,” and “protein deficiency.” When I wouldn’t budge, he sighed, and said, “Okay, well just make sure you get a mix of nuts and soy to get all the essential amino acids.” Really? REALLY? It is so tall an order to ask someone to eat two different food types, that it strikes you as easier to overhaul their entire eating practice to a less healthy one?

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The other big concern medical professionals and family/friends alike have with veganism is that you just can’t possibly be getting enough protein (never mind the amino acid composition of said protein). Most people believe that all produce is completely bereft of any protein content. This wrong information is so pervasive that when I was in graduate school, a fellow graduate student from the Biology department sat across from me at lunch explaining to me that there was no protein in fruit. I nearly concussed myself from slamming my head into the table in front of me in disbelief of what I was hearing. This is a person who has a degree in biology, which is nearly impossible to achieve without stumbling across the concept of The Central Dogma of Biology, which is a fancy way of saying DNA gives RNA which in turn gives Protein. That’s the main thing that cells do. Everything else is downstream of protein production. The nucleus, the very control center of a cell? It’s a glorified a library of recipes to make proteins. In other words, if it has got cells, it has got protein.

central-dogma

Despite what you have been told, there is plenty of protein in fresh fruits and vegetables. Most plants contain about 5% of their calories in protein. That may not sound like much, but let’s compare that to breastmilk. Breastmilk is designed by nature to meet the needs of babies. During infancy, we have the fasted growth rate of any point of our lives, and thus have the single highest protein requirements of any point of our lives. That requirement? About 5% of your calories. At any other time in your life, regardless of your profession or exercise goals, you don’t need anywhere close to that amount. Even if you’re a bodybuilder, you are not doubling your weight in a 5-6 month period like a baby does.

WhereDoYouGetYourProtein

Despite the fact that 5% protein is the peak of our protein needs over the entire course of our lives, we are told that protein-rich foods should make up between 10 to 35 percent of our daily calories by entities such as the USDA. This misinformation is taken up by nutritionists and doctors alike, and filters down to the general public via their family doctor and campaigns such as MyPlate. It’s not that the people making these recommendations are bad scientists. It’s that they are bad people. The simple fact is that the USDA committee that makes these recommendations is a massive example of conflict interest. Year after year, these people have financial interests in the meat and dairy industry. It benefits them to ignore scientific fact, and to promote the consumption of excessive protein through meat and dairy. Sadly, when this misinformation is delivered year after year, it becomes accepted by the public as fact to the point that delivering a scientifically-based message of healthy living becomes almost impossible.

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But what’s the harm? So what if we’re eating 35% of our calories in the form of protein when, as adults, we likely need 1-2%. Surely our bodies will simply take what the need and excrete or egest the remainder? Nope. It is well known that excess protein in the body comes with a host of health risks including back pain, osteoporosis, kidney stones and renal disease, heart disease and even cancer, especially when those proteins are derived from animal products (P.S. men, animal protein causes Low-T). Too much protein is as bad for you as smoking! And, oh yeah, and excess protein gets converted to fat in your body.

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The easiest way of ensuring your body has enough protein, without consuming the excessive amounts that contribute to so-called “diseases of affluence,” is to replace all animal-derived products with plant-based, whole foods. And before you worry about not getting enough protein, ask yourself this: have you ever met someone diagnosed with protein deficiency? Have you heard of a friend of a friend being diagnosed with protein deficiency, or even having the symptoms of protein deficiency? I have heard of plenty of people having anemia from iron deficiency. Iron is something you should supplement, or at least monitor the levels of in your diet. B12 is another tricky thing to get solely from plant sources.

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But protein is something that never, ever needs to be supplemented. We get plenty of it, no matter what we eat, and no matter what we want our bodies to do. In closing, vegans get plenty of protein.

Additional Reading/Watching:

Forks Over Knives

More Than An Apple A Day: Preventing Our Most Common Diseases

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Protein Myth by Amanda Woodvine, BSc Nutrition

The China Study by T. Colin Campbell

– From Table to Able: Combating Disabling Diseases with Food

 

* added in proof.  

FODMAPS, Gluten, Nocebos, My Upper Arms, Knees, and Toes!

The haters of gluten-free living have been having a great month!

First, everyone reveled in showing those of us who have self-diagnosed as gluten-intolerant the following Jimmy Kimmel video:

Following the logic of this piece, if you don’t know what a carcinogen is, you would be immune to the cancer-causing effects of asbestos or plutonium! Ignorance truly would be bliss!! For the record, I DO know what gluten is (a composite protein of gliadin and glutenin that makes up the endosperm of grains in the family Triticeae, including wheat, barley, rye, and spelt).

A reason for the spike in gluten intolerance, and the rising numbers of people who choose to live gluten free may result form the fact that modern grains have been bred with much larger endosperms containing higher levels of gluten, and, thanks to the Farm Deal, we are being inundated with gluten in baked good, salad dressing, soy sauce, toothpaste and lipstick! I remember a woman who worked at the animal facility in grad school telling me that anyone who works there long enough will develop allergies to animal dander. In other words, anyone -ANYONE- who is exposed to artificially high levels of a potential allergen will develop an allergy to it. And when it comes to gluten, we are all that “anyone”. We are exposed to levels of gluten not seen in nature that we are just not meant to be consuming.

Gliadin

Glutenin

Also this week, the media picked up on a publication where it was shown that “gluten intolerance” may actually result from FODMAPS or “nocebos*.” In a nutshell, a scientist who had previously shown that non-celiac gluten insensitivity is responsible for certain digestive issues redesigned the study and determined that Fermentable, Oligo-, Di-, Mono-saccharides And Polyols, or FODMAPs may be the real culprit. I’m a little science-d out having worked overtime this weekend, so I’ll let wikipedia elaborate on what a FODMAP actually is.

The media jumped all over this report, and in its sadly characteristic modus operandi, distilled the report down into a simplistic talking point without doing any actual journalism, or having someone who understands science explain the study to them in the  monosyllabic words to which they appear to be restricted. First, I do want to reject the point that a lot of my friends on the gluten-is-evil team are saying. This study was well-designed, independently executed and properly peer-reviewed. It was not influenced by “Big Flour”.

However, there are still a couple of things to note about this study, or any scientific study you read. First, Professor Gibson is not the only person studying Gluten. The media has decided that his original paper showing gluten-sensitivity was the only paper ever demonstrating this phenomenon. It isn’t. Here’s a paper that Christina of BodyRebooted posted a couple of months ago. In this study the authors demonstrate that non-celiac subjects develop an immune response to gliadin (a component of gluten). In other words, these people were sensitive to, or intolerant of, gluten.

Another thing to note is that Professor Gibson’s study only looked at a specific set of issues related to gluten insensitivity, specifically digestive issues. He did not examine other issues such as skin health, inflammation-related pain, or longterm outcomes such as obesity, cancer, or autoimmune issues. And nor should he have. No one study can ever be expected to examine every single aspect of a complicated issue like gluten insensitivity. But the fact remains that if he didn’t look for these issues, he can’t make the claim that gluten doesn’t cause them. And to be fair to Professor Gibson, as a good scientist, he hasn’t been making these claims; it’s the media that has been overreaching and misinterpreting his data.

Journalists ≠ Scientists!

When we are trained in science, we are taught to scoff at people who say things like. “Well, I smoked my entire life/never wore a seatbelt/was spanked by my parents/never paid attention in science class, and I turned out fine,” because this is anecdotal evidence, and can be wildly unreliable. A good example of this is Winston Churchill, who smoked cigars every day and lived until he was 90. Based on that evidence you may think that you can smoke your way to longevity. However, if you look at a sample of 100 smokers, or 1000 smokers, or 1,000,000 smokers, you will see that the projected life expectancy for smokers is actually quite poor.

Your new Health Guru!

That said, here’s my N=1 anecdotal evidence:

When I came to DDP Yoga, I was absolutely certain that I would never give up gluten. I was firmly in the you-either-have-celiac-disease-or-you-don’t camp, and I knew for a fact that I was not allergic to it, and that it wasn’t causing any of the lifelong issues I had. In fact, it had never been suggested to me that gluten could cause anything other than digestive problems, so its role in skin problems and my chronic knee pain wasn’t even on my radar. In other words, there definitely weren’t any psychosomatic effects (or “nocebos”) in my case.

I cut gluten during the course of my weight loss simply as a calorie-controlling mechanism, and I wasn’t expecting anything else in terms of benefits to my health. I have written about the benefits to my knee pain before, so I will be brief here. Cutting gluten prevented a large amount of knee pain that I had suffered with for years. Doing DDP Yoga certainly had a role in resolving this issue, but I have noticed that when I accidentally consume gluten or dairy, I have flair-ups of pain. I often don’t find out that I had consumed gluten until after the pain happens, and I retroactively investigate why it happened, so we can eliminate “nocebos” as the cause.

More recently, I had a amazing revelation of the power of GF living. For my entire life, I have had nasty, scaly, dry red bumps down the back of my upper arms and on my legs. I have tried everything to get rid of them. On the (lazy) advice of a doctor, I spent months at a time religiously moisturizing them. I tried exfoliating, I tried wrapping them at night, I tried old wives’ tales. Everything. And nothing worked so I just gave up trying. I completely gave up on trying to get rid of them over a decade ago. The other day, I was working on my computer, and crossed my arms as I thought about what I wanted to type. In doing so, I felt the skin on the back of my arms, and realized that it was completely soft and smooth! I couldn’t’ believe it. Some light Googling lead me to learn that gluten may cause dry scaly issues. This is yet another example of GF living resolving an issue that I didn’t even know gluten was causing! I have also written about the role of gluten in another skin issue here.

Photo on 5-19-14 at 8.46 AM

The bruise by my elbow is from running the Tough Mudder… DDP Yoga turned me into a M%^&*# F&^%$in’ Monster! But the rest is baby smooth!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t close by saying that as a scientist, I fully understand that FODMAPs may be responsible for the issues I had with both my skin and my knees (as well as digestive issues and weight, which I had but didn’t elaborate on in this piece). By excluding gluten from my diet, I will inadvertently remove FODMAPs from my diet too, and therefore experience the benefits of a FODMAP-free diet through GF living. If that is the case, great! I will continue to live GF, and I will continue to be healthy. I honestly don’t care which specific molecule was causing dry skin, chronic knee pain, acne, overweight and bloating/gas. I have found a healthy, whole-food diet through the DDP Yoga plan, and I am NEVER going back!

In all reality, humans are a heterogeneous bunch, and the answer may be “all of the above”. Some people may have celiac-based gluten intolerance, whereas others may have non-celiac sensitivity. Others still may be allergic to FODMAPs, and some people may have no issues with gluten or FODMAPs. I know this doesn’t fit the simplistic, one-size-fits-all talking points the media likes to use, but you shouldn’t be getting your scientific information from a journalist anymore than you should be expecting a professor of archeology to keep you up to speed on current world events!

I will make one last plug for the gluten-is-evil theory, and why I think gluten, and not FODMAPs, were responsible for my particular issues. The first time I went vegan back in 2009 (pre-DDP Yoga), I loved making Gluten Sausages. The main ingredient in these sausages is pure gluten, so we can eliminate FODMAPs as the culprit. I would make batches of 6 – 12 sausages at a time, and they never lasted very long. While they were delicious, over time I started noticing that if I ate them for more than 2 days in a row (which I often did), I became severely constipated for up to two weeks at a time and, well, this T-shirt explains the rest…

TMI, Darling!

 

Okay, so there was nothing in this piece about my toes. I just liked that song as a kid!

 
*This is an obnoxious neologism. We already had a term for this phenomenon; it’s called a psychosomatic response. And while you’re at it, take back “Aha moments” Oprah; the correct word for this is “epiphany”!
** Yeah, Dairy is bad too! 

Now, You Kn-oatmeal

It’s sad when bad things happen to good puns, huh? If you have read any number of my posts, you would be forgiven for accusing me of holding an overly-inflated opinion of DDP Yoga and thinking it can do no wrong. Well, if that were the case, this is the post for you! The DDP Yoga nutrition guide to which I adhere says oatmeal is fine in Phase 1, but not thereafter. While I adhere to Phase III in most every other way, “you can pry the [oatmeal] from my cold, dead hands!”

Yes, I do!

I have replaced all the nasty, gluten-filled cereals I used to eat with oatmeal, and until recently I was eating instant oatmeal because mornings in our house start around the 5th snooze, and culminate with frantic shoving of people and goods into the car after 10 – 20 minutes of chaotically trying to get everyone, including a toddler, ready. Anything to cut down on time is a welcome assist. However, I had been worrying about the chemicals that might be lurking in my breakfast bowl. Everyday we learn about some awful additive that big companies are shoving into our food supply, and failing to inform us thanks to a complete lack of regulation. I had been told that the only difference between real and imitation vanilla extract was whether pods or bark were soaked in alcohol until I checked the label in the imitation vanilla extract in our cabinet. Somehow propyl glycol had worked its way in there. I understand that it has GRAS status from the FDA, but I also know that means nothing. As I strive to eat actual food without strange chemicals, the vanilla extract wound up in the trash can! I had similar concerns about oatmeal. What strange chemical process was being employed to make oatmeal’s cook-time plunge from upwards of 45 minutes down to 1-2 minutes. I was worried that I was consuming large amounts of organic solvents or chemicals with lots of numbers and hyphens in their names. This process seemed like the kind of opportunity to introduce poisons into our diet that the food industry usually revels in.

Well, that’s unsettling!

So, I went to the most reliable and accurate source of nutritional information I could think of*, and started learning about how oatmeal is made “instant.” I was skeptical when the first webpage I read explained that it was simply boiled briefly and dried out in large ovens. Surely some benzenoid organic solvent would be used to speed up evaporating the water? Result after result assured me that was not the case. The next question I had was whether there was any nutritional deficits with instant oatmeal, so once again I employed my top-of-the-line research tool**, and found a lot of conflicting information. Sifting through it, I learned there are three basic types of oatmeal: instant (most processed), quick-cooking (intermediate processing), and steel-cut (minimal processing). Instant oatmeal is made from oat that have been rolled flat, and then boiled and dried out in large ovens. Steel-cut oats are not subjected to these processes. A number of websites claim that the amount of soluble fiber is the same in instant and steel-cut oats, and comparison of the (limited available) nutritional data from online databases yielded the same finding. However, that doesn’t seem to make sense. It seems obvious that the soluble fiber would be lost in the boiling process. One website published a comparison which shows that steel-cut oats contain more soluble fiber than instant oatmeal. In case you don’t know, soluble fiber is extremely important in the diet as it binds and carries fat and cholesterol out of the body and stabilizes blood glucose levels by slowing sugar absorption. From my own experience, I am inclined to believe that information. I have seen when cooking steel-cut oats, a visible amount of soluble fiber collects in the water, and I have found that eating steel-cut oats helps with digestion in ways that instant oatmeal does not.

Yes, I do.

Whatever the case, I am attempting to be as close to a fully unprocessed, unrefined, whole food, vegan diet as I can be. Everything I learn about nutrition has lead me to the conclusion that the less refining a food has gone through, the healthier it is for us. My cabinet is stocked full of organic steel-cut oats and devoid of genetically-modified instant oats. Just don’t tell DDP I am still eating a Phase 1 foodstuff!

* Google
** still Google

Yum, Yum, Yum, Yum, Yum… Delicioso!

If you don’t understand the title…. lucky you!

Arborio rice (risotto) is awful. Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious. But it’s awful for your health. It’s as highly refined and processed as white rice. You’d be as well to pour a bowl of sugar into your mouth in terms of the spike in blood sugar, and ensuing inflammation. Thanks to a friend in grad school, I was able to find an equally delicious and creamy replacement, and I have spent the last few years fine-tuning variations on my recipe. The following is a base recipe which you can adapt to replace any other risotto recipe you enjoy!

Materials:

  • 6 Bell Peppers
  • 1 Cup Wild Rice
  • 1 Cup Steel Cut Oatmeal
  • 6 Cups vegetable stock
  • 1-2 Cups vegetables (corn shown here)

Method:

In a large pot under medium heat, add the rice and oats. Stir in one ladleful of stock at a time, and stir until all liquid has been absorbed. This should take about 40 minutes. At this point, your wild rice may still be uncooked. Continue to stir in ladles of water until the rice and oats are softened. If you want to speed up this process, precook the wild rice according to manufacturer instructions.

In the meantime, preheat your oven to 350F and cut the tops off the bell peppers and scoop out the seeds. Place the peppers onto a pyrex dish (I like the 9″ rectangular thin ones… basically, you want it to be tight enough to keep the peppers upright, this will be more of an issue later). Cook the peppers until they are nice and soft and remove from the oven leaving them in the tray (20-25 mins, depending on the pepper and your preference). Turn the oven up to 450.

When the “risotto” is cooked, stir in the vegetables. These can either be frozen or prepared to your liking (caramelized onions for example). Fill the peppers with the risotto mix, and stick back in the oven. If you’re not as strictly simple,whole foodsy as I am, you can top with some GF breadcrumbs. Bake until the rice is brown on top and serve!

Note: you may have some risotto mix left over depending on how big your bell peppers were, and how much vegetables you used. It freezes really well, so just buy some more fresh bell peppers next time you want them, or do anything else you would do with risotto!

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