Valentine’s Gifts for Every Body (that includes YOU!)

Remember the Valentine mailbox you made each year in grade school? Decorated with red and pink hearts and other symbols of love, it was ready to receive the little white envelopes with a candy or two taped to the outside from your classmates. Before long, the innocence of giving a caring message to everyone was replaced with a romantic appeal to that special someone. Maybe you and your special someone still exchange gifts, the traditional roses or box of candy.

Ragen Chastain will join Darryl Roberts, director and producer, for the screening of America the Beautiful 2: The Thin Commandments on Wednesday, February 15 at 7:30, B117 Wells Hall. Free admission!

This year on the MSU campus, Valentine’s Day occurs during Eating Disorders Awareness Week. That happenstance makes the messages that every body is beautiful, every body is important, and every body is deserving of wellness care particularly meaningful.

The one person who really knows what you need to lovingly care for yourself is you. So what are you doing for you this Valentine’s Day? Here are some ways you can care for yourself like no one else can:

  • Self-compassion—When you start with self-compassion, everything else will seem more achievable. By acknowledging your humanness, you are better able to accept yourself and the imperfections that make you interesting and unique—that is, human! In her book, Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind, Kristin Neff, associate professor of human development at the University of Texas at Austin, suggests writing a letter to yourself from the perspective of an imaginary friend who loves you unconditionally despite your weaknesses and in celebration of your strengths.
  • Rest—Sleep is a necessity and can seem like a gift when you get enough of it. Rest has more to do with mental renewal, for example, taking time for your hobbies, connecting with family and friends, performing a service for others or just being with nature.
  • Movement—Discover what you enjoy doing, or maybe you already know. Your amazing body does so much for you. It just needs a little movement each day to keep on performing at its best.
  • Nourishment—The “how” of eating is so much more of a gift than the “what” or the “how much.” Start off with a plan—whether preparing a meal for yourself, going to the store for the food that has been on your mind, or taking yourself to a restaurant with a relaxed atmosphere—you will feel cared for by the planning process itself. Once the meal is in front of you, take a cleansing breath to bring your mind to the present and to the pleasure of the experience. You just may decide to eat all of your meals this way!
  • Check-up—A visit to your health care provider for a routine check-up and recommended health screenings is one of the best ways to love your body. Find out which health screenings you need at HealthWise Knowldege Base (enter “interactive tool for health screenings” in search box). Then give your health care provider’s office a call and schedule an appointment for a routine physical exam. 

Today is a great day to begin taking the best care of the person you will be with for the rest of your life—you!

Add a comment to expand the list or to share how you showed love and compassion for yourself this Valentine’s Day (or any day).


  • Neff, K. (2011). Self-compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind. HarperCollins: New York.
  • Davidson, L., & Novello, J. (2006). 10 Factors That Contribute to Our Emotional Wellness. accessed February 13, 2012.
  • Satter, E. (2008). Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family: How To Eat, How To Raise Good Eaters, How To Cook. Kelcy Press: Madison, WI.
  • HealthWise Knowledge Base. Interactive Tool: Which Health Screenings Do You Need? accessed February 14, 2012.

My Plate is My Plate

Most likely, you’ve seen USDA’s new food guide, MyPlate. I agree that it was high time to move away from the ancient pyramids. Choosing a plate as the new symbol of healthful eating makes a lot of sense. A plate suggests a meal; meals lead you to eating at regular intervals and more variety. But then come the rules telling you what and how much to put on your plate. They even tell you to “enjoy your food, but eat less.” In the end, MyPlate is the same old pyramid, just a new shape. Ellyn Satter had some advice for the policy makers (if only they would ask) in her recent newsletter.

Speaking of plates, I still hear the advice to serve food on a smaller one to help with weight loss. Like so many well-meaning suggestions, it really doesn’t work that way.

Researcher Barbara Rolls and her colleagues at Pennsylvania State University looked at the effect of plate size on food consumption.  In each of the three study variations, participants were remarkably consistent in eating the same amount whether they ate from a dinner plate or a smaller plate. Participants rated hunger and food taste as the primary influences on their food intake.

“Use a smaller plate” and “make half your plate fruits and vegetables” are two examples of  the many control messages aimed at getting you to eat less than your body needs or desires.

You have internal regulators to guide you in your food selections and amounts.  Give yourself trust messages: “My food looks appealing on a dinner plate,” “I like my fruit in a separate bowl,” “I enjoy my food the most when I ____________.”  You’ll know a trust message when you hear it–it will bring pleasure to your meal.

Rolls B, Roe L, Halverson K, Meengs J. Using a smaller plate did not reduce energy intake at meals. Appetite. 2007;49:652-660.


Premiere showing right here at MSU!!

Principal Dancer for New York City Ballet, Jenifer Ringer, maintained her poise and charm as she responded to remarks about her body by a New York Times critic. In her conversation with Oprah Winfrey, aired last week, Jenifer recalled, “It was horrible to read something like that. It made me feel bad…it was embarrassing.”

Jenifer talked about her struggle with eating disorder. “I’m not sure where it started but somewhere in my teenage years, I started hating my body. I think it was because I knew I had curves and that is not what I should look like as a dancer.” At that time, her response to not fitting the stereotypical mold of a ballerina was to vacillate between not eating and eating compulsively.

Now as a 34-year-old mother at the height of her career as a ballerina, Jenifer admitted, “My first thought was, ‘It’s happened—this is my worst nightmare. Someone has called me heavy in the press. And lots of people are going to read about it.’ But my next thought was, ‘It’s happened and I’m okay, and I’m fine the way I am and I have survived it.’” Jennifer had evolved from self-loathing to self-loving.

You don’t have to be a celebrity to be the target of wounding words. Body criticism, rampant in the media, has become commonplace. We do it to others and ourselves.

I was grateful for Jenifer Ringer’s public response. She demonstrated for all to hear how she reacted initially and then how she responded thoughtfully. She countered the remark with positive self-talk. The criticism was out there. That could not be undone. But the power of words was broken in terms of the influence she allowed them to have.  Bravo, Ms. Ringer!

Eating Disorders Awareness Week is February 20-27, 2011. One of the featured events is the showing of America the Beautiful: Health for Sale. Join filmmaker Darryl Roberts as he previews his sequel to America the Beautiful–right here at MSU! Darryl examines “all things health,” most specifically targeting the American obsession with dieting. This is an opportunity to consider the question “do we really understand what it means to be healthy?” 

Join us Thursday February 24 in South Kedzie Hall S-107 at 8 pm. Admission is free, seating is limited–doors open at 7:30 pm.

Beware of 100-Calorie Packs

…especially if you diet. That’s the findings of a study published in The Journal of Consumer Research.

You’ve seen 100-calorie packs in the grocery store, convenience markets and vending machines. It seems like all snacks foods are available in them. 100-calorie packs made their way into the marketplace in 2004 and peaked in 2008 when 190 new 100-calorie pack foods entered the marketplace. Their numbers are dwindling a bit now, maybe due to the recession or maybe due to less interest in portion-control products. It could be that consumers heard about this study!

Researchers at Arizona State University wondered if the smaller packs were helping people control their calorie intake, the original marketing strategy behind 100-calorie packs.

How did consumers in the study react to the mini-packs? There was no single answer. It turned out that each person’s response hinged on his or her relationship with body weight and food.  To appreciate the findings, it is helpful to know what is meant by a couple of terms:

A restrained eater is someone who resists physiological urges to eat in order to lose weight or to maintain a reduced weight. Often, restrained eaters group foods into good and bad categories and prefer to know calorie content of a food before eating it.

An unrestrained eater usually goes by internal signals that he or she has eaten enough.

Both groups, restrained and unrestrained eaters, thought of the mini-packs as diet food. All of the study participants predicted they would want to eat less if the food was in the mini-packs as opposed to normal-size packs. But when it came to eating the food, the restrained eaters ate more from the mini-packs than did the unrestrained eaters. More often than not, the restrained eaters ate all of the mini-packs available to them whereas the unrestrained eaters ate some and left some.

So what is the appeal of a little bit of food in overpriced packages? My best guess is that restrained eaters gravitate to this type of packaging for “bad” or “forbidden” foods as part of an ongoing effort to eat less overall or to control their eating of less-than-desirable food. 

This study shows us that food packaged in mini-packs doesn’t really help anyone. It doesn’t fool anyone either. People have a basic need to feel there is enough food. That just can’t happen with food served up in mini-packs.

Food security comes from having a plentiful amount of normal food offered at predictable times throughout the day. Approaching meals and snacks in this way lets you pay attention, eat as much you want, and enjoy it.


Scott ML, Nowlis SM, Mandel N, and Morales A: The effects of reduced food size and package size on the consumption behavior of restrained and unrestrained eaters. Journal of Consumer Research. 2008; 35(3):391-405.

Satter E: Hierarchy of food needs. Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior. 2007; 39:187-188.

Herbs and other flavor boosters

The University Club was the happening place to eat on Tuesday. Culinary Cooking and Concepts was going on and featured a tasty gourmet meal and yours truly as the speaker. The topic was “Marinades and sauces and rubs, oh my!” Here’s what one participant e-mailed to her friend who wasn’t able to attend this month:

You missed a very delicious lunch today.  The salad could have been the meal as far as I’m concerned.  Sort of like a VERY fancy BLT.  HAHA, I’m not doing it justice.  And I WANT that dressing which was basil leaves, olive oil, vinegar and salt & pepper but I have never had anything like it.  They should bottle it and sell it!  Looked like a green goddess.  Chix breast was nice and moist, but the mushroom risotto was the star, along with fresh green beans and carrots, and the dessert was a simple vanilla ice cream with fresh berries and a Cabernet sauce. 

Next month is BERRIES!!!

That salad was a work of art–the way they wrapped the thin slice of cucumber around the baby lettuce leaves along side the stack of tomato slices alternating with fresh mozzarella. You can find the recipes on the Health4U website–unfortunately, not the “green goddess” salad dressing yet. Still trying to wrestle it out of the Chef! We’ll post it as soon as we have it.

I always learn so much when I’m preparing for one of these programs. For instance, to get the most “life” out of your herbs, trim the stems, place them in a container of water, cover loosely with plastic and set it in the frig. To make a sturdy, tip-resistant containter, cut down a half gallon (plastic) milk jug, leaving the handle intact. Those complementary shower caps you get in your hotel room make a really great plastic cover for your new herb vase.

The time to wash your herbs is just before you’re ready to use them. If you have a lettuce spinner, give it double duty. Leave the basket inside it, place your herbs and cool water in it, swish the herbs well, then lift out the basket, dump the water and spin the herbs dry.

I’ve been making a really delicious salad this summer using the produce from my garden. This salad will work with whatever vegetables you have–cucumbers, tomatoes, sweet peppers, hot peppers, red onion, green onion, zucchini, green beans, carrots, cauliflower–did I miss anything? Peel, chop and mince until you like the looks of it. Make a dressing by whisking together 1 to 2 Tablespoons of white wine vinegar, 5 Tablespoons of olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped herbs–parsley, cilantro, basil or mint in whatever combination you like. The tomatoes, and the other vegetables to some extent, release their juices and make that simple dressing really tasty! I love to add a few olives and a sprinkle of feta just before serving.

Did you know that tomatoes have their best flavor if you never refrigerate them? Well, not until you cut or cook them, that is. Even after you cut them, you can let tomatoes “rest” at room temperature for a couple of hours.

I walked down to the MSU Student Organic Farm Stand just after they opened today. I made a list and Julie posted their offerings on the Health4U website: During the height of the harvest, we’ll try to update our website each week to let you know what you can find there. If you need herbs to make some of our new recipes, the SOF Stand has them!

Eat then Tweet?

The popular social networking tool Twitter is being applied to eating. I have never tweeted so I am trying to envision how this works. The way I understand it, you eat, then you post to your Twitter page (tweet) what you ate, then you wait for your followers to reply with a tweet to tell you what they think of what you ate. This reply (re-tweet) goes out to all of your followers’ followers and pretty soon half of America knows what you ate for lunch.

It is such a popular thing to do that someone invented a Twitter-based food diary to allow you to tweet a real-time broadcast of what you just ate and the number of calories (determined by “the crowd”). The crowd includes 8,000 followers who help you scrutinize your food. Just in case the crowd can’t come up with a criticism for you, a sidebar on your Tweet What You Eat page features your own “Taboo Food List.”

Obviously, a lot of people think this is a good idea. Community support is always good, right?

Not when it comes to your food, according to the authors of a study published in 2007 in the journal Appetite. They found that dieters crave the foods they try to avoid. Forbidden foods become more desirable and lead to increased eating of those foods. Paradoxically, creating a taboo food list does not help you avoid the foods on it. Criticism from yourself and others makes you feel guilty, anxious and even depressed. With all of that going on, it is difficult to pay attention to what you’re eating and what your body needs.

Rather than tweeting what you eat, why not use the time to eat in a more relaxed manner? Begin by taking a deep cleansing breath and giving yourself permission to eat the food you have chosen. Given time, you’ll re-discover the joy of eating.

Fletcher B, Pine KJ, Woodbridge Z, and Nash A: How visual images of chocolate affect the craving and guilt of female dieters. 2007. Appetite. 48(2), 211-217.

Dressing Your Salad for Dinner

My local farmers’ market has made the transition from seedlings to produce. The early spring greens are still available, and now the offerings include other vegetables to toss in the salad bowl. I happily went home with red leaf and Bibb lettuces, spinach, early English cucumbers, sugar snap peas, radishes and green onions. The fresh herbs were there, too. I selected some cilantro since I don’t have it in my herb garden.

I took all of this lovely produce home and I washed, dried and chopped it into a beautiful salad. Then came the dilemma. How to dress it for dinner?

The person I share dinner with has his favorite salad dressings. He is happiest with his salad if I just stay out of his way and let him use one of the bottles from the door of the frig. As for me, I have never found a bottled dressing that suits my taste—they’re too sweet or too creamy or too vinegary. Yet my homemade dressings sometimes are just as problem-ridden.

So I’ve done some “research” on salad dressings. It seems to me that there must be a ratio of vinegar to oil to make the perfect dressing. The “rule of thumb” for basic vinaigrette which calls for 3 parts oil to 1 part vinegar may be too sour (acidic) for some people. If this is the case, you could use part citrus juice, add a little sugar, or increase the oil. When using all or part citrus juice, or when using a mild or sweet vinegar, you may need less oil to balance the flavors. Here’s a mix and match chart to get you started, but remember to adjust the ratios to suit your salad ingredients and your taste:


3 to 5 parts olive oil 1 part red wine or cider vinegar
3 parts nut oil (e.g. walnut oil) 1 part white wine or sherry vinegar
2 parts canola, corn or safflower oil 1 part flavored vinegar (e.g. Balsamic or raspberry vinegar)
2 parts peanut oil + a drizzle of sesame oil 1 part rice vinegar
1 to 2 parts olive oil 1 part citrus (lemon, lime or orange) juice

For the most basic vinaigrette, mix the vinegar/juice with salt and pepper, then slowly drizzle in the oil while whisking. To give your dressing some extra personality and zip, add in diced garlic, onion, red pepper, or herbs. Or add other spices such as cumin or ceyenne pepper. If your salad ingredients call for a sweeter dressing, add sugar, honey or maple syrup to taste.

The secret to keeping your vinaigrette from separating is to add an emulsifier. There are a couple of really convenient emulsifiers found in most kitchens: mayonnaise and mustard. It’s actually the egg yolk in the mayo and the seed coat in the mustard that bonds with the oil to keep it from repelling the water in the vinegar and juice.  For each cup of vinaigrette, add 1 teaspoon mayo or ground mustard, or 4 teaspoons Dijon-type mustard.

The final step before adding your fresh homemade vinaigrette to the salad is to taste it. Dip in a vegetable from your salad  and give it a try. Adjust the ingredients until it suits you.

Still want the convenience of bottled dressing?  A favorite resource of mine, America’s Test Kitchen, did a taste test of supermarket salad dressings.  The winner of their “bottled” vinaigrette taste test was  Good Seasons Italian All Natural Salad Dressing Mix (you add your own vinegar and oil) with a close runner-up being Kraft Seven Seas Viva Italian Dressing. In the creamy salad dressing category, their tasters found Marzetti Creamy Italian Dressing with Cracked Peppercorns to be “decent all around” and “passable in a pinch.”

 However you dress your salad, take it to dinner and enjoy!

A cookie by any other name

It is late afternoon and you have a twinge of hunger.  One of your co-workers sets out a plate of cookies and says, “I tried a new recipe for this high-fiber oatmeal snack made with healthy ingredients.  Whole grain oatmeal is good for your health because it contains soluble fiber. This oatmeal snack is low in saturated fat and has no trans fats.”  You help yourself to a cookie and begin to eat it.

How would it affect your eating if the cookies received a different introduction?  Same scenario, late afternoon, you’re hungry and a colleague offers you a tray of cookies, saying, “I tried this new recipe for gourmet cookies made with fresh butter and old-fashioned brown sugar.  These cookies are a real treat with a pleasant, sweet taste.”

Researchers at the University of Toronto used these two messages as they set out to investigate the effects of food-related beliefs about the healthiness of foods on the amount of food eaten during a snack.  In the study, undergraduate students were offered oatmeal raisin cookies under the guise of a market-research study involving a taste-testing task.  The students were offered identical cookies with one or the other introduction and invited to eat as many as they wanted after they had completed the taste-testing form.   Participants ate about 35% more when the cookies were presented as a healthy snack as opposed to when they were offered as a tasty treat.

Eaters often categorize food as healthy (good) and unhealthy (bad) based on their perception of the fat/calorie content of the food or the fattening nature of the food. The classification also comes from stereotyping based on the name of the food. In this case, oatmeal snack = good, gourmet cookie = bad. 

No matter the reason, when a food is deemed “healthy” it seems okay to eat more of it.  The categorization itself, then, influences how much you eat without you even realizing it.  Healthy/unhealthy food thoughts manipulate your eating rather than allowing you to trust your natural instincts about whether or not you want a cookie. And if you do, how much to eat of it. 

Giving yourself unconditional permission to eat all foods lessens the impact of food-related messages.  With enough practice, you begin to disregard good food-bad food labels. You can savor the foods you choose and eat as much as you desire.


Provencher V, Polivy J, Herman CP. Perceived healthiness of food.  If it’s healthy, you can eat more! Appetite. 2009; 52:340-344.

Saucing up your grains

We had a great turn-out for the cooking session of Vegetarianism 101. I gave the participants the chance to test their knowledge of some unusual grains. Can you tell the difference between millet and quinoa, or kasha and bulgur?

One of the participants suggested spending an evening or weekend day making several sauces then freezing them for easy family meals. She said this is a great way of assuring great taste and variety for quick weeknight dinners. Simply add the sauce to the grain or legume and voilá–dinner!

This got me to thinking–what sauces would be good to make for the freezer? Aside from a traditional tomato sauce or pestoRomesco sauce would be delicious. Deborah Madison has an entire section on sauces in her classic book, Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone. She suggests serving sesame sauce over grains or grilled vegies, peanut sauce with tofu and curry sauce with rice or as a base for curried vegetable soup.

Here’s a great marinara sauce recipe to get you started:

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, chopped fine
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 cup tomato paste
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 4-28 oz cans crushed tomatoes
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup Parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
  • salt and sugar to taste

Heat oil in large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions and cook unti golden brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in garlic, oregano and pepper flakes and cook for 30 seconds. Add tomato paste and wine; cook until slightly thickened, about 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and water; simmer over low heat until the sauce is thickened, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Stir in cheese and basil. Taste, then season with salt and sugar as needed.

How easy is that? You may want to give these recipes a trial run then double or triple them to store in your freezer. Once your sauce has cooled, ladle it into plastic freezer bags or containers in 1- or 2-cup portions, label with recipe name and date, then lay the bags flat on a sheet tray to freeze. Once they’re frozen solid, you can remove them from the tray and stack them to save on freezer space.

When you come home hungry, you’ll be glad your dinner is nearly done.

Nutritionist vs. Nutritionism

Our host introduced me to Michael Pollan, author of several best selling books about food.  When the word “nutritionist” was connected to my name, Mr. Pollan raised his brow and said, “I hope I don’t offend you.”

I get a reaction from many people when they find out my profession. Maybe it’s the irony of my name but I think being in the presence of a nutritionist makes a lot of people uncomfortable, over-the-top nervous to share a meal with one. I guess they are afraid that I will judge them for how, what or how much they eat. So I have my standard reply—“I’m a liberal dietitian,” I say, hoping to ease their worries. But I don’t think most people are concerned that they will offend me.

On this occasion, I was sharing a meal with Michael Pollan along with a banquet table full of university folks who were in some way connected with sponsoring Mr. Pollan’s visit to our campus. It was a festive meal planned to feature foods from our great state. The salad greens, radishes, fingerling potatoes, beets and parsnips were grown in the high tunnels (hoop houses) of the Student Organic Farm; the wine, both red and white, from the Keweenaw Peninsula; the shrimp from a local farmer just 10 miles from campus. Even the butter pats were dressed for the occasion, sporting the Spartan seal to give at least the impression of being local.

So why would I be offended? Nutritionism. It’s a term Mr. Pollan adopted to give a proper name to what has happened to our food. As Mr. Pollan explains it, adding the “ism” takes nutrition from being a science to being an ideology. Beginning in the 1970’s, foods took a back seat to nutrients. Depending on the prevailing research, nutrients are added to foods to make them fit the newly discovered health benefits.

There are four premises to nutritionism:

  • Nutrients are the important reason to eat food.
  • Experts are the driving force in our food culture.
  • The world of food can be divided into good and evil.
  • The whole point of eating is health.

The story of margarine (or oleo, as Mom calls it) exemplifies nutritionism. Margarine came onto the market as a cheap substitute for butter. It wasn’t long before the food manufacturers convinced consumers that the “good nutrients” in margarine made it better than butter. Each new scientific discovery has emerged in its malleable sticks (or tubs) to give consumers more unsaturated fats, less cholesterol, more vitamin A, more mono-saturates, less trans fats—whatever the nutritionism-practicing nutritionists ordered. Margarine became “good” and butter became “evil.” The dairy case was so full of spreads, it was a dilemma to choose which to take home. Yet all along, butter tasted far better.

The butter-margarine conundrum and thousands of others like it have made eating complicated. As a consumer, if you listen to the science or give credence to food package claims, you can become confused about what you should eat. Yet we are apt to eat what we were brought up eating (for me, the exception being oleo). Families try to feed their members well, to the best of their abilities. Gathered together to break bread and share a meal, family members gain a whole lot more than nutrition.

Mr. Pollan tries to simplify eating with his mantra, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” In his book, In Defense of Food, he persuades eaters to avoid “food like substances” and rather choose whole fresh foods. On the surface, this seems to simplify food selection. In reality, it’s a lot for people to trip over. It doesn’t give consideration to their circumstances. His latest book, Food Rules, is another clever look at our food supply; all tolled he came up with sixty-four rules. In my book, rules complicate eating.

Through his books and public appearances, Mr. Pollan has made his audience aware of what they are eating. It was thrilling to see a packed house at the Wharton Center for this World View Lecture Series. The audience was not disappointed. All in all, his speech was very entertaining.

Was I offended? Not in the least! Dispense with the rules and we would see eye to eye. For clarity, I’d like to change my title to “Eating Reassurance Expert.” Not all nutritionists practice nutritionism. Many of us recognize the joy of eating.