Archive for the ‘media’ Category

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.


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.

“My Stroke of Insight”

Jill Bolte Taylor will be speaking at MSU's Wharton Center on March 1, 2010 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available.

I wanted to read at least a bit of Jill Bolte Taylor’s book before going to her lecture March 1. My colleague handed me a copy from the Health4U library shelf. Standing there, I flipped through the book and landed, amazingly, on the pages where she described her right-minded approach to eating. Well, that drew me in…  

Jill Bolte Taylor was working as a neuroanatomist at Harvard Medical School when her life and career were interrupted suddenly by a stroke. It took her eight years to recover. She detailed the journey in her book, My Stroke of Insight. True to her vocation as a brain scientist and teacher, Dr. Taylor explains with great clarity the workings of the brain’s left and right hemispheres.  

Most humans are left brain dominant. The left brain sees the world in minute detail, takes those details and assembles them into a sequential story, and then takes that story and tells it over and over—a phenomenon Dr. Taylor calls “brain chatter.” The left brain houses the comparison center, where critical judgment and analysis takes place. Be aware, it can spin a tall tale out of just about anything.  

Contrast that with the brain’s right hemisphere where peace and tranquility reign supreme. The right brain takes in all the information from the body’s sensory centers and assimilates it into the here and now. In the right mind, no time exists but the present. Consider the terms Dr. Taylor chose for her right mind function: authentic self; euphoria; Nirvana; perception of myself as perfect, whole and beautiful; deep inner peace; and loving compassion.  

As I read the book (the entire book), I kept thinking how interesting it would be to silence my left hemisphere when it comes to food. After all, to eat intuitively one needs to quiet the mind and reach a state of calmness. When I do that, I can better appreciate the tastes and flavors, the smells and aromas, the textures and complexities of the food.  

But if my left brain was totally silent, I wouldn’t remember to go to the grocery store or pack my lunch or take food out of the freezer for dinner. Left to its own devices, my right hemisphere would go on a scavenger hunt with each perception of hunger.  

I arrived at the conclusion that it takes my whole mind to properly feed me. Here’s how the conversation between a hypothetical left hemisphere (LH) and right hemisphere (RH) goes when it comes to eating:  

RH: (feeling) gnawing in abdomen. (perception) hunger. (visualize) chips.   

LH: I know that feeling. It happens every day at this time. Let’s see, what did I bring to eat? I should have time for a lunch break at 11:30.  

RH: (feeling) gnawing. (perception) hunger.  

LH: Not right now. It’s always okay when I wait until 11:30.  

LH: Okay, it’s time to eat. Don’t eat all the chips. Why did I pack so many? I definitely packed too many. They have a lot of calories and fat. Eat the fruit. It’s better for me…  

RH: (perception) hungry. (sensations) crunchy. juicy. flavorful…  

LH: Tuna salad like Mom used to make.  

RH: (perception) not hungry.        

LH: I knew I packed too many chips.  That’s good, I can have more later if I want them.

Obviously, our brains have much more complex thoughts than this. But it is possible to quiet down, eventually even get rid of, the pesky thoughts about food while still engaging the left mind to make plans and have fond memories.    

After all of that reading and thinking I have arrived at this conclusion: Enjoyable eating happens from a balanced brain.

High Risk for Big Losers

One of the many reality shows to hit the airwaves since the turn of the century, The Biggest Loser debuted in the fall of 2004 and began its 9th season last week.  Contestants, chosen for their size and girth, become roommates on an isolated ranch. They are put on extremely low calorie diets. Work-outs with personal trainers last five to six hours each day. The competition is between teams and the grand prize is awarded to the contestant who loses the most weight. Although health and quality of life are touted as the goal, weight loss is the sole criteria for remaining on the show and winning the quarter-million dollar prize.

The amount of weight loss is staggering. Over the course of 21 weeks, leading contestants lose over 100 pounds each. Erik, self-described as the “biggest winner of all the biggest losers,” lost 214 pounds, more weight loss than any other contestant. At last report Erik had gained back 184 pounds. His experience is far from unique. Most people in clinical weight loss programs regain weight after completing treatment. The vast majority of participants in programs promoting lifestyle modifications (diet, exercise, and behavior therapy) regain 30 to 35 % of their lost weight within the year after treatment and will have regained all of the weight, often more than what was lost, within 5 years. Sustained weight loss is particularly difficult for individuals who lose 20 percent or more of their body weight.

Weight is not the only thing people lose. Endeavors resulting in major reduction in body weight cause losses of money, time, self-esteem and health. Rapid weight loss increases the risk of gallstones, cardiac arrhithmias, electrolyte abnormalities, osteoporosis, depression, anxiety, sexual apathy and many physical signs of nutritional deficiency. Weight regain adversely affects blood pressure, serum lipid levels and general quality of life. Biggest Loser season one winner, Ryan, who within 3 years had regained 90 of the 122 pounds lost during the 2004 season, is quoted: “Unfortunately, keeping the weight off has been tough for me…the biggest way  [the show] changed my life is I feel guilty for gaining the weight back.”

Health implications aside, perhaps the worst aspect of The Biggest Loser is the shame brought upon the contestants for their body size. Voice-overs of contestants speak of self-hatred; trainers push competitors in grueling workouts; and teammates bully each other under the guise of motivating them to lose more weight.

Body hatred creates fear and anxiety–not the best weight management strategy. “When you’re down on yourself and your body, you’re much more likely to act destructively,” said Linda Bacon, professor at City College of San Francisco and nutrition researcher at University of California, Davis. “If you exercise as punishment for weighing too much, how can you learn to enjoy being active? If you eat salads only as a way to change the body you hate, how will you enjoy the wonderful tastes of fresh vegetables?”

People who accept their bodies take better care of them. You make better choices about what to eat, how often to exercise, when to schedule preventative medical tests–a whole host of self-care that starts with self-love.

Overeating Hysteria

Before returning my borrowed copy to the library, I want to write a bit of a review about Dr. David Kessler’s book, The End of Overeating: Taking Control of the Insatiable American Appetite.

Dr. Kessler explores the reasons why he thinks highly palatable food is so hard to resist. He describes “conditioned hypereating” as a state of mind similar to drug addiction. As former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, I’m sure Dr. Kessler understands the addiction model. Yet, he applies this model to food stating, “Fat, sugar, and salt change the brain.” Further, he asserts that the food industry is irresistibly combining these three ingredients into “hyperpalatable foods.”

Near the end of his book, Dr. Kessler candidly acknowledges his own history of overeating and weight cycling. “I have lost weight, gained it back, and lost it again—over and over and over. I have owned suits in every size,” he admits.

It seems reasonable, then, for Dr. Kessler to perceive food and eating as addictive. For those like Dr. Kessler who have banned certain foods or limited food quantity for the purpose of weight loss, thoughts about food become pervasive. Food seems like an addictive substance and eating seems like an addictive behavior.

A more accurate explanation lies in the recent dramatic discoveries about how the human brain and body function together to influence food choices. The primal need for food is very well regulated. The human brain responds to hunger by stimulating food seeking behavior, finding pleasurable food and eating until the body senses that it has had enough. Scientists describe this response as a balance between the homeostatic and hedonic systems.

Focused on his attack on the food industry, Dr. Kessler has skipped the brain science as well as the behavioral science on the subject of food and eating. He is stuck on the same old ideas of hyper-regulating and hyper-resisting.

The title of the book is the first clue that his ideas are off-track. After all, everybody’s appetite is satiable; and control is not the answer.

Dieting and the Weight Gain of Americans

Lincoln University has caused quite a stir. An exercise class in their curriculum is necessary for graduation only for their students of size. Now there is nothing wrong with an exercise class, but why is it a requirement only for students with a BMI over 30? Can the need for exercise be determined by a number on the scale? Or is the intent to help these students lose weight?

Helping someone lose weight may be well-intended but in reality, the notion that his or her body is unacceptable is damaging. Many experts hold the opinion that weight loss attempts, whether self-imposed or institution-imposed, cause weight gain. Repeat often enough with large numbers of people and dieting just may lead to a weight gain epidemic.

One of the first scientific studies to look at this issue was led by Ancel Keys. In 1946, Keys and his colleagues at the University of Minnesota conducted experiments on 32 young men. This study is referred to as the Minnesota Starvation Study for a reason. The men were underfed enough to induce weight loss. They were observed for signs and symptoms related to insufficient food. The point of the experiment was to determine how to re-nourish them. One phenomenon that surprised everyone—most of the men ended up weighing more than they did prior to the caloric restriction. Six of the men gained nearly 10 additional pounds of body fat.

Fast forward sixty years or so and we are still trying to pinpoint exactly why this happens. Study after study shows the association between dieting (any behavior undertaken with the intent of losing weight) and subsequent weight gain but we have yet to determine the reason.

Researchers Herman and Polivy, in 1980, coined the term “restrained eating” to mean chronic dieting. They noted that chronic dieters were unable to keep to their diets despite concern with weight. Dieting behavior was accompanied by occasional lapses of restraint. They and other researchers described restrained eaters as very motivated but rather unsuccessful with weight loss.

In the intervening decades, many studies comparing the behavior of restrained and unrestrained eaters have taken place. Researchers have determined that, when presented with food cues, restrained eaters have stronger urges to eat than do unrestrained eaters. Pleasurable thoughts about food guide restrained eaters’ behavior despite their weight loss goals. Unrestrained eaters are less sensitive to food cues and more likely to follow their internal sense of hunger.

In a society where dieting messages are ubiquitous, how can you dodge the bullet?

  •         Accept your natural weight—never start the down-again, up-again weight cycle.
  •         Look kindly at your body and treat it with respect.
  •         Do the same for others.
  •         Identify a pattern of meals and snacks that works for you—then follow through with appetizing foods.

French Foodie Flick

Julie_and_juliaIf you haven’t seen Julie and Julia yet, I recommend it. I saw it twice–in the same weekend. Once with my hubby and once with my cooking friends. Meryl Streep captured the essence of Julia Child. I could see and feel Julia’s passion about food.

Julia was a foodie long before her training at Cordon Bleu and opening her own cooking school, L’Ecole Des 3 Courmandes. It was her love of food that led to her career as a gourmet, making French cuisine accesible to “the servantless American cook.” That would be me!

French cooking is high on flavor. The French strike a perfect balance when it comes to great tasting food–and you can too. Here’s how it works:

  • Excellent flavor leads to pleasure.
  • Pleasure allows you to tune-in to each bite, savoring the texture, flavor and aroma.
  • Over-indulgence isn’t necessary when you freely offer yourself flavorful food.

Mediocrity may leave you wanting for more. Notice what happens when you settle for something to eat that isn’t what you were craving. Do you eat less than you desire, but keep munching trying to find that certain somethng that really hits the spot?

So you say, “I can’t cook gourmet for all of my meals.” Not every meal has to be bon vivant. But every meal can offer you something you are excited about. Sometimes your meals will be ho-hum and you have to make do. That’s okay–eat enough to get by and plan to have something tasty and delicious at your next meal.

If you get in a rut and can’t think of a thing to make for dinner, here are some ideas to put you back on track:

  • Pick up a food magazine at the newstand. They feature seasonal recipes and usualy have great pictures to entice you.
  • Borrow a cookbook from the library.
  • Tune-in to a cooking show. I particularly like PBS’s America’s Test Kitchen. A friend told me that she and her daughter like the Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa because Ina Garten makes simple dishes and instructs in a calming manner.
  • Take a cooking class through your local community education program, community college or university. Check around–there may be a local entrepeneur offering cooking lessons.

And that entrepeneur just may be another Julia Child. Can you imagine? Enrolling in a cooking class in 1950’s Paris and having Julia as your instructor?! L’Ecole Des 3 Courmandes, the name of Julia and friends’ school, translated is “The School of the 3 Happy Eaters.” Now that’s a place I would enthusiastically enroll. Bon appetit!