Tag Archives: mood

The Grand Finale

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And here it is, my final post of this entire project.  What a year it’s been!  I recently read back on the “About” and “The Beginning” posts that I wrote over a year ago in order to re-familiarize myself with the reasons why I embarked on this journey to begin with.  What I learned from reading those posts is that my posts have gotten A LOT longer over the year (sorry about that) and that most of my goals for the year were achieved.  I had wanted to learn what it was like to follow a regimented diet, to learn new cooking techniques, to be able to answer questions about popular diets, and to improve my will power.  I would say I wasn’t a total success on the will power portion, but I also realized, through a year of “failing” on the will power game, that it’s not a battle that should even be fought.  More on that in a minute, but first, my “awards” for this year.

The Dow Diet Awards
These are obviously just based on my opinion, except the “Most Expensive” award.  That one is based on cold hard facts as witnessed by depletion of my bank account.

  • Most Hated: Winner – Fast Metabolism Diet. Runner Up – Paleo
  • Most Forgettable: Low Fat
  • Best for Weight Loss: Although I didn’t really lose any weight on any of those (remember: that was my goal), the ones I would recommend would be 1) Volumetrics Diet and 2) Weight Watchers
  • Most Expensive: Sustainability
  • Enhancing the Culinary Prowess: Mediterranean, Vegan
  • I Can’t Wait to Quit You: Paleo, Low Fat, Fast Metabolism Diet
  • Favorite: Too tough to choose just one. Three-way tie between Vegan, Mediterranean, and Mindful Eating.

My Dietary Recommendations for Health and Happiness, in a very specific order

  1. Eat mindfully- Taste your food, free from distraction.  Cook it and savor it with all of your senses.  It will work miracles on your relationship with food, and is by far the best thing you can do for yourself.
  2. Cook your food – Here is a video narrated by Michael Pollan, which really hammers home the importance of cooking your own food.  This doesn’t mean “preparing” a meal, i.e. a box of macaroni and cheese. It means actually cooking from scratch.  When you do that, you don’t have to worry so much about the fat, carb, and protein content of your food. It’s just nourishment at that point, and it will balance itself out over time.
  3. Don’t be a dick about it – It’s hard to put this at #3 because I want to put it at #1, but the other ones are probably more important.  I’ve always just rolled my eyes and been annoyed when people are super pretentious about their food, but these feelings were strengthened this year by trying all these different eating approaches and also by moving to Boulder, CO (the most uppity place I’ve ever experienced).  My friends back in Tucson have something called the “In-N-Out and Casa Molina” test for people.  If you aren’t willing to ever eat a tasty cheeseburger and some delicious, greasy, unhealthy Mexican food, there may be a larger underlying issue.  If you disagree with this statement, you’re probably that pretentious person I’m referring to.  Stop being a dick about it.

regular donuts

  1. Eat more produce – Everyone could stand to eat more fruits and vegetables.  Incorporate them into more and more of your meals until you eat them constantly and start to crave them.  Then, get creative, try new ones, and try preparing them in different ways.  The possibilities are endless.
  2. Whatever approach you use if you’re trying to lose weight, choose one that can be maintained long term – At the end of the day, all of the diet trials and myriad of studies that have been performed ultimately lead to the same conclusion: the diet that works best for weight loss is the one that you can maintain.  Try out different ones to see what works for you, and don’t get discouraged when the first thing you try doesn’t work for you, but it worked for your cooler, hotter, sister who everyone likes more and who has never struggled with anything. It’s so unfair! We’re all individuals.  There is no one-size-fits-all approach to weight loss.
  3. Don’t drink the Kool-Aid – Literally, but also figuratively.  If it sounds too good to be true, it is.
  4. Stop freaking out about it – It’s not nearly as complicated as the media and all the snake oil salesmen want to convince you it is.

What I Learned

As I previously mentioned, I really struggled this year with will power, until I realized that there is no point to will power if there isn’t a larger goal in mind.  One of the most important lessons I learned this year is that curiosity is only a good short-term motivator.  I struggled nearly every month to stay on track with the allotted dietary pattern because I would either lose sight of why I was doing this or, when I would remind myself of the goals listed above, they didn’t seem like good enough reasons.  This was particularly true in months like Paleo and Fast Metabolism Diet when I had never felt hungrier and that transcended into some mental and emotional imbalance.  Those months were the only time that I ever got a glimpse into what it’s like to be on a diet.  One of my goals was to attempt to understand the psyche of a person undergoing a diet (thanks to those two aforementioned diets, I succeeded in that goal), but also to understand why people put themselves through the torture of a diet.  I never got to the place where I understood that, and that comes back to the curiosity thing.  Curiosity was my motivator, but the need to feel normal when you feel terrible trumps curiosity.  I imagine a person with a dire health concern or a need for weight loss has a different motivation, and that’s something that I can’t relate to at this point in my life.  Maybe if I ever need to change something about my lifestyle I’ll be able to relate to that issue more, and I’ll see the need for will power.  But right now, I think will power is a silly thing to get caught up on, and I think it’s an issue that prevents people from reaching their health goals.

So here is a larger spiel on will power, and I realize as I’m writing this, that these ideas are not something I’ve ever been taught in any nutrition or health class. They go against many of the recommendations that students are taught regarding diet counseling.  But here it goes.

The most important lesson I learned this year involves the concept of moderation.  I know, you’ve heard it a million times before – everything in moderation.  And maybe you’ve decided that moderation doesn’t work for you because you haven’t found that grasp on it – it’s either gorge yourself or go without, and if you are working on losing weight, the “correct” option is to go without.  I really REALLY learned the fault in that kind of logic this year (the caveat to this, of course, is people with addictive behaviors or personalities, which I can’t really comment on because I don’t have any kind of extensive knowledge or training in that area).  I’ll use the example again of FMD.  That was truly a “go without” month for me, and I HATED it.  Not only did I feel physically unhealthy, but I felt mentally unhealthy.  And there’s the crux of it all.  Physical and mental health are so intertwined that they can’t and shouldn’t be separated, though our current system attempts and is often successful at convincing us that they should be.  Typically things that are good for your mental health are good for your physical health, so focus on that.  You will never see the full benefit of a healthy lifestyle approach if you only focus on the physical health aspect of it.  This whole time I’ve thought that my will power issues could be rectified by taking away the stimulus.  This is the basis of nearly every fad diet and every dietary recommendation.  “Don’t keep chocolate in the house so you won’t be tempted.”  “Snack on fruits – it will feed your sweet tooth.” I call bullshit on all of that.  While this may lead to weight loss, it doesn’t do a whole lot for your mental health because you a) feel deprived and b) never learn how to have a healthy relationship with these foods that you consider unhealthy/evil.  And what is the point of physical health if mental health isn’t riding shotgun?  I don’t know what the meaning or goal of life is, but for me it has something to do with finding peace in the midst of a hurricane.  Removing a stimulus doesn’t improve will power – it weakens it.  We need to find ways to achieve balance, and we do this by being in the midst of a room full of crispy French fries, the most decadent chocolate, a succulent cheeseburger, the deepest of deep dish pizzas, the creamiest ice creams, with a littering of fruits and vegetables and other health foods… and then we choose to have a few tastes of each of those things.  We really savor them and appreciate them, and then we carry on with our day, never feeling deprived or engorged.  It’s being able to control a situation instead of letting a situation control you.  This clearly isn’t just about food.  It can be applied to nearly every situation you will ever face in life, but your relationship with your body and your body’s fuel is a foundation that needs to be built, strengthened, and continuously re-patched in order to live a long, healthy life.

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————–

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite quotes that taps into the issues with how we eat in America.  Eating a diet that supports the beautiful vehicle that is your body needs to be a priority if we want to prosper and see progress on both individual and societal levels.  The path to get there isn’t as difficult as it seems.  It’s just straight into the kitchen.

“…it turns out we don’t need to declare our allegiance to any one of these schools of thought in order to figure out how best to eat.  In the end, they are only theories, scientific explanations for an empirical phenomenon that is not itself in doubt: people eating a Western diet are prone to a complex of chronic diseases that seldom strike people eating more traditional diets.”
-Michael Pollan, In Defense of Food

Thank you to everyone who followed this project over the past year.  There’s no way I could have done this on my own – I would have quit so many times if I didn’t have followers. Thank you for your attention, your comments, your questions.  

Live Beautiful!
Caitlin

P.S. If you’re looking for another health blog to follow with posts that will take a lot less time to read than mine, check out my friends Dezi and Matt’s blog: Simple Fitness Blog.

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Are you there, Caitlin? It’s me, Questions.

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One day I was at work, working on this very post (it was a slow day in science), and a friend asked what I was doing. I said I was answering questions that people had for me, and she replied with initial excitement that waned into reality: “Oooh you’re like Carrie Bradshaw! Except instead of writing about sex, you’re writing about science and nutrition.  That’s not really as exciting.” No, it’s not.  But here it goes – my attempt at being a columnist.

Q: What do you know of this Garcinia Cambogia and body cleanse diet. Dr. Oz has talked about it. Have you heard anything on it?

 A: Like usual, when I saw “Dr. Oz” in the question, I cringed.  I typically consider Dr. Oz to be a bit of an extremely charming snake oil salesman.  But I decided to look it up because when the people have questions, I give them answers. First, I went to Dr. Oz’s website to see what him and his people had to say about it.  Then I searched on PubMed to find out what the science says.

What Dr. Oz’s website says: Garcinia Cambogia is a fruit native to Indonesia and supplements are made from the rind of the fruit, which is high in a compound called hydroxycitric acid (HCA).  The claim is that HCA prevents fat synthesis by blocking an enzyme (citrate lyase) that converts carbohydrates to fat.  HCA also reduces appetite by increasing serotonin production in the brain.  In effect, this improves mood and reduces the drive for emotional eating (though it is unclear if people with normal or high serotonin levels and who don’t resort to food to for emotional reasons would benefit from HCA).

What the science says: 43 Brazilian women who were overweight/obese were randomized to receive either a placebo or 2.4 g/day of G. Cambogia (separated into 800 mg consumed before each meal) in addition to an energy restricted diet (~1500 kcal/day) for 8 weeks.  There were no differences pre- to post-treatment or between randomization groups following the study in terms of weight loss (or any other anthropometrics), or any marker of the lipid profile with the exception of triglycerides, which were lower after 8 weeks in the women consuming the supplement compared to those on the placebo.  This study indicates no real benefit of using G. Cambogia.  That’s just one example of a research study on G. Cambogia, but there are many more that show similar results.  A recent review article by Astell et al. evaluated the data on a variety of plant extracts (including G. Cambogia) that have been explored in randomized controlled trials (the gold standard of human research) with regards to weight loss, and concluded that there is not sufficient data to suggest that any plant extract will significantly aid in weight loss above standard dietary and physical activity practices.  One study did show that HCA taken in combination with Gymnema sylvestre extract resulted in a 5-6% reduction in body weight after 8 weeks.

The Bottom Line: There aren’t enough well designed research studies for this herbal supplement (or any) to get my stamp of approval.  First, there isn’t enough information to suggest that they are effective, but more importantly, there is a question of safety here.  People often use the logic that herbal supplements are “natural,” and therefore safe.  But there is nothing “natural” about taking a supplement that provides you with 10 fold or more of a compound than what you would get from just eating food.  Remember, hemlock is also “natural,” but it still very effectively killed Socrates.

Q: I have a friend who is using a mobile app to track his caloric intake and lose weight.  He has lost weight, but I’ve noticed that he still eats pretty unhealthy food, drinks beer, and doesn’t seem like he’s getting any healthier, though he is still losing weight.  Is he actually getting healthier?

This approach is similar to that of many fad diets, and it relies on the simple principles of “calories in, calories out.”  Yes, if you ingest fewer calories than you expend, you will lose weight.  This friend may actually be getting healthier because weight loss of as little as 5% of initial body weight has been proven to confer health benefits like improvement in blood lipids and glucose, blood pressure, sleep apnea, joint pain, depression, Type 2 diabetes, and you’re bound to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.  Only 5%.  That means that if you weigh 200 lbs and you lose 10 pounds, your health will most assuredly improve.  Lose more weight, see more benefit.  So the fact of the matter is, yes, health does improve when you lose weight (if you need to lose weight. This doesn’t hold true if you’re already a healthy weight).  But this is not an approach I would ever recommend for anybody.  While you will get healthier simply by losing weight but still eating whatever you want, it’s only a fraction of how healthy you could be if you started eating healthy foods.  Matching the caloric content of two patterns, eating a whole foods diet that focuses on whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and healthy fats will win out every single time over a diet high in refined carbohydrates, processed foods, and fatty protein sources.

There was a “case study” that a brave soul performed on himself to prove a point to his students.  Professor of Human Nutrition at Kansas State University, Mark Haub, decided to go on a junk food diet for 10 weeks to prove the premise of “calories in, calories out.” He ate Hostess cakes, Doritos, Oreos, etc and consumed 1,800 calories/day (he should consume about 2,600 to maintain weight).  While he did take a multivitamin and eat a couple of servings of vegetables everyday, his diet was mostly shit and he lost 27 lbs.  A number of outcomes improved for him over the course of 10 weeks: his body fat percentage dropped, his blood lipids improved. (Read more about it here: http://www.cnn.com/2010/HEALTH/11/08/twinkie.diet.professor/).

The Bottom Line: So should you try to lose weight by simply focusing on calories?  Like I said, not my recommendation.  Haub’s data are interesting, sure, but we don’t know the long-term consequences of eating like that.  I would speculate that the risk for cancer would increase, and inflammation and oxidative stress would be huge issues for Haub.  Inflammation and oxidative stress are known to exacerbate chronic disease risk for diseases like cancer, Type 2 Diabetes, CVD, Alzheimer’s, etc.  The outcomes that he measured are validated markers for disease risk, but they don’t tell the whole story.  While obtaining/maintaining a healthy weight is extremely important for long-term health, there’s a lot more to it than just the number on the scale.  Eat your damn produce.

Q: Is there any science to back up Ayurvedic eating practices?

A: Ayurveda is an ancient Indian approach to medicine, and Ayurvedic eating is a therapeutic approach to eating that is often practiced by yogis and others with goals of inner peace.

The focus of Ayurvedic eating is to find joy, balance, and an appreciation of food via eating.  Most of Ayurvedic eating uses the same principles of mindful eating – being present, cooking your food, eating food that tastes good, paying attention to hunger cues, and not eating distractedly.  In addition to mindful eating techniques, the practice considers three different body types and personalities (called “doshas”) – Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.  Once you determine which dosha is predominant for you, you can start eating to complement it. I’ll go through everything for myself, but use this link to find out about yours, if you’re interested.

I determined that my primary dosha is Vata, which is fairly spot on with my body type and personality.  The primary qualities of a Vata individual are that they thrive on movement and change. Vata individuals are typically tall and slender with narrow hips and shoulders and are generally energetic and enthusiastic, unless they are out of balance.  Signs of being out of balance are skipping meals (something I try to avoid because I actually do notice how much it throws things out of whack for me – I don’t know if this actually has anything to do with being Vata or if that’s just my personality) and snacking constantly (my worst dietary habit!).

One of the predominant issues with Vata is digestion.  To stay in balance, it’s recommended that Vata cook their food to ease digestive issues instead of eating foods (like vegetables) raw and heavier, oily, or warm foods are preferred.  Vata should avoid red meat and many types of beans, but sweet, ripe fruits and many cooked vegetables are supported.

An interesting thing about Ayurvedic eating is that it focuses on eating a balanced diet, not only by balancing carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals, but also taste.  There are said to be six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, pungent, and astringent.  Each meal should contain all six tastes in order to be balanced, though each dosha should focus on some more than others.  For example, the Vata dosha should minimize bitter, pungent, and astringent flavors because these are said to lead to imbalance.

What the Science Says:  I did look for some actual science to support this, but I didn’t find anything.  This would be a pretty difficult thing to test, in general.  First, I’m not sure what the outcome would be, other than quality of life.  Ayurvedic eating is a healthy approach to eating, both due of the mindful eating approach as well as the focus on whole foods.  This means that if you put the average person on an Ayurvedic diet, they would feel better because their diet in general has improved. You could probably put anyone one on any of the specific dosha diets and see improvements in health.  In order to test it properly, you’d need to find people that already eat healthy, but perhaps don’t eat mindfully and don’t follow the recommendations of their particular dosha.  It’s pretty difficult to properly measure a health outcome on people who are already healthy because the scale by which they can improve is drastically reduced.

The Bottom Line: While I couldn’t find any data to support Ayurvedic eating, that doesn’t mean it’s not a healthy approach to living.  It just means that no one has tried to and/or effectively tested it yet.  As I mentioned above, you’re likely to see benefit because of the mindful eating techniques as well as eating whole foods.  As far as eating for your body type and personality – I don’t know.  I can’t pinpoint a specific mechanism that would suggest that that’s necessary.  But if you’re interested in it, give it a shot.  It certainly won’t hurt you, and it looks like you may learn some interesting cooking techniques as it will force you to pay more attention to flavor pairing.

Hope that answers some burning questions that a few of you had and maybe the rest of you learned a thing or two along the way. I’ll post my final blog post within the next few days!

“When Walking, Walk. When Eating, Eat.” A Lesson in Mindful Eating.

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For my final month of this amazing, yearlong experiment, I opted for an eating method unlike anything else I have tried.  December was characterized by “mindful eating,” which focuses on the hows and whys of eating instead of the whats.

virginia woolf- dined well

Background

Most diets take the approach of eliminating or emphasizing certain foods (i.e. eat less fat, eat more vegetables, stay away from wheat, only eat organic, etc.).  The problem with these approaches is that they don’t address the psychology of eating at all, and everybody knows that we, as humans, typically eat more for psychological reasons instead of out of actual hunger.  A lot of us know that we overeat and have issues with maintaining healthy portions, whereas others undereat and never feel satiated.  We focus on certain types of foods in an effort to attain a certain goal (high protein, low carb in order to get “cut”).  In doing so, we lose any sense of joy that comes from eating food.  If that’s not enough of a reason to switch your eating style, maybe the fact that you never attain said goals (likely because you never feel satisfied and then binge on “unhealthy” foods) is reason enough to change.

Mindful eating, unlike other approaches, teaches us how to enjoy food again by listening to our body’s cues.  Take a looksee at the plate below, which does a really great job at explaining what mindful eating “looks like” for a given meal.

Print

When practicing eating mindfully, the focus is to actually be present.  By being present, we can focus on the flavors and textures of food and appreciate our food more.  Turn off the TV, get away from your computer, and focus on your plate.  Another helpful practice is to actually put your fork down between bites.  Chew and swallow each bite before you take another.  By doing this, you’ll eat more slowly (if you’re prone to eating quickly, make a conscious effort to actually slow down), which means that you’ll probably notice when you’re full, thus preventing overeating.  Do you ever get through a meal and not even realize how it tasted? Practicing the above approaches to eating will help you enjoy your food and actually form a connection with it.  You’ll appreciate it more and likely not see eating as a “chore.”

Another important point about mindful eating is the conversations that arise about food – both with ourselves and with other people.  We can be extremely judgmental about our eating practices because 1) we are either unhappy with our bodies and we associate “unhealthy” habits with our body issues or 2) the media has done a really effective job at tricking you (and everyone else) into being apologetic and judgmental about everything we put in our bodies.  This is something that has to end if you are ever going accept yourself and actually be happy with attaining weight loss or health goals once you reach them.  When a judgmental thought arises when you choose ice cream over a piece of fruit, let it go.  Allow yourself to eat the ice cream, and use the approach that I outlined above to actually enjoy that ice cream and not overeat it.  When you’re eating with friends, don’t talk about dieting or make statements like, “I’m so fat.”  Don’t apologize for ordering the burger instead of the salad.  These words don’t help you – they only serve to foster feelings of guilt.  Furthermore, they may affect someone else who is struggling with food, self-esteem, or body issues.

My Experience

In many ways, this was simultaneously the hardest and easiest month of the year for me.  It was easy because shopping and cooking were more streamlined, and I didn’t have to overthink my menu.  I could eat any food at any restaurant, which was really nice when people asked, “Oh wait… what diet are you on this month? Can we go there?”  It was more difficult than many because I had to take the time to sit down and actually think about what I was eating, why I was eating, what I liked/disliked about my meal, pay attention to satiety cues, etc.  Isn’t that interesting? That actually thinking made this month more challenging than most? I’m sure I’m not alone in that reaction to mindful eating.

Some of the strategies that I used to be more mindful (in addition to what I outlined above) went as follows:

  • Setting the table and eating free from distractions.  I always say I don’t eat in front of the TV because I don’t… but I eat in front of my computer, watching Netflix, which is the same freaking thing.  I always looked at this as using my time efficiently, but that’s the equivalent of an 8 year old argument, and it’s time to stop that nonsense.
  • When at work, not checking emails while eating lunch.  Another thing that I thought was just efficiency.  I move too fast through my life.  There’s no legitimate reason to sacrifice my meal time to make it more efficient, when a better way to achieve efficiency would be to simply cut the extraneous BS out (like..Facebook).
  • Sitting down for snacks as well as meals.  When I get home, I typically go right to the pantry and grab a handful of something – almonds, popcorn, crackers, chocolate-covered-whatevers.  But this month I would ask myself, “are you willing to actually sit down and eat this?” Typically the answer was no because I wasn’t actually hungry, so I wouldn’t eat it.  It made me stop mindlessly munching on things, which is one of my worst dietary habits.
  • Attempting to eat slower.  I say attempt here because it turns out that I really am an extremely slow eater.  I’ve been told all my life that I’m ridiculously slow, but I always just thought that other people were fast.  Yes, every single person I’ve ever dined with was a fast eater and I was normal.  Makes sense… So I tried to slow down when doing mindful eating, and it was not possible.  And that’s when I finally accepted how slow I am (cue lightbulb turning on).  But most people should actually try this.

One of the things that I found most interesting about this month was people’s reaction to my description of mindful eating.  I would tell people about focusing on the flavors and textures of foods so that they would enjoy them more.  Many people who are focused on a health goal would reply with something along the lines of, “that sounds horrible because my food sucks.”  This always baffled me.  Just eat something that tastes better.  You can very easily attain a health goal while eating delicious food.  And that was something that I realized as well – I stopped eating crappy food this month because I was focusing on the flavors and textures.  This meant that I really avoided processed foods because I started paying attention to how much they suck.  Imagine that…

Final Stats

 

Goal/Normal

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Volumetrics

Mindful

Anthros
Weight

121-60

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

123.5

125.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

19.5

19.7

PBF

21-32

?

?

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

26.5

27

HC

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

38

37.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.7

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

105/72

108/75

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

1820

1855

Protein (%)

13058

15

22

19

15-61

16

18

20

CHO (%)

49-52

52

60

52

28-77

46

54

53

Fiber (g)

at least 25

30

23

25

30-52

28

31

28

Fat (%)

20-35

33

18

29

10-46

38

28

27

Sat Fat (%)

<10

8

7

8

3-7

7

7

8

Sodium (mg)

2300

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

1975

2325

Potassium (mg)

4700

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

3906

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

6-11

5-8

Cost

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

128.5

?

In general, there were no real changes from a health/dietary intake perspective.  I also didn’t track cost in December because I was home in Tucson for the last 9 days of the month, not buying groceries, so everything would be skewed.

Final Thoughts

This month resonated with me more deeply than any other month this year.  2013 has really been a year of striving to achieve mindfulness and presence on a very personal level.  I think this is true of many people, but I am very rarely present when I’m by myself, without the distraction and conversation of others.  My mind wanders to what I’ll be doing later, how I want to recount a specific activity to someone instead of just being present for that activity, and I fill my life with distractions – Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest… the internet, in general.  When I’m at work, I am often inefficient because I can only focus on a given activity for a few minutes before I check one of several social media sites or read a blog post.  These are habits I’m trying to break, but it’s a struggle. (You may be wondering how any of this relates to mindful eating, but it does (because everything relates to everything else 😉 I’m getting there).

One way that I have been working on mindfulness is via my yoga practice.  Yoga is a way to connect deeply with yourself in a way to better your relationship with yourself, which will benefit those around you, by working through series of asanas (postures).  The goal is to remain very present by focusing on your breath, the areas of the body that feel great as well as the areas that feel tension or discomfort.  My mind wanders constantly in yoga – as a way to escape the tension or discomfort and because that’s just what I do.  I make to do lists or daydream when I’m attempting to meditate, simply because I don’t know how to free my mind of thought and stay present.

This month felt like a culmination to what I’ve been working on personally for the whole year, even though I didn’t plan for it to end up that way.  I truly recognized how much of a journey all of this is (“this” meaning life or whatever you’re trying to work on with yourself).  Of course I knew that, but I hadn’t really enveloped it.  It’s all about progress.  One of my yoga teachers made the point that you don’t suddenly reach enlightenment when your heels finally make contact with the earth in downward facing dog.  It’s a journey of progress and a single success isn’t exciting if you didn’t have to work for it and earn it, nor is a single success exciting when it isn’t a part of a bigger picture.  This is true of all health goals too – whether it be weight loss, incorporating more vegetables into your daily routine, running a marathon, or mastering a balancing sequence in yoga.  You have your whole life to work towards making the best version of yourself, so take your time, be patient, and do it right.  When you don’t do it “right,” have the patience to come back to your center and start anew.  Be gentle with yourself and those around you.  And don’t take it all so damn seriously.

This mindful eating month provided a new approach to remaining present.  The focus was with food, but that transcended to other aspects of my life.  I found myself better (but not perfect) at meditation in yoga.  I stopped checking my Facebook account so much.  And I became more patient with myself and stopped having judgmental thoughts towards myself whenever my mind would wander in meditation, or I would check my Facebook even though I had just checked it, etc.  I just let it happen and then reconvened.  I can’t tell you how empowering this is: this practice of not being so self-critical because I finally realized that it gets me nowhere.  December was defined by progress, and it was the first month out of the whole year that I felt like I hadn’t learned all I needed to know about the given dietary approach in the allotted month.  I continue to eat mindfully into 2014, learning everyday from the approach, and I don’t think it’s something that will go away anytime soon. If you’d like more information on mindful eating, please comment, and I’ll send some resources your way!

And with that, 2013 has come to a close.  I’ll write a couple more posts to wrap everything up.  One will answer the questions that people asked me.  The other will summarize the year.  Not many people sent in questions, so please do if you have any!! Thanks, as always, for reading all these many many words 🙂

P.S. I’m sorry for ragging on Facebook so much in this post.  It’s a great forum and perfectly acceptable way to network with others.  I just have my own issues that need to be addressed.  It’s not Facebook’s fault.

Falling in Love with Food Again – The Mediterranean Way

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LovePeople

The Mediterranean has always fascinated me – the people, the geography, the history, art, culture, politics, etc.  Food is no exception.  This October, I brought the Mediterranean into my world, and I’m sad to be leaving it behind me.

The Basics
Many people (Americans) hear about the Mediterannean Diet, that it includes the eating styles of the Italians, and automatically assume that means pasta, alfredo, breadsticks, maybe lots of meatballs, etc.  In this and many other ways, Olive Garden has done a huge disservice to Americans and what we think Italian food is.  That type of food is Italian, but it is more reminiscent of Northern Italy, where heavier foods abound and health benefits of said diet do not.  Instead, the MedDiet embodies the food stylings of areas that actually border the Mediterranean Sea.  Meals in these places tend to be fresh, light, flavorful, with a very healthy dose of olive oil and red wine.
Study after study promotes adherence to the Mediterannean Diet for its heart health benefits.  I focus on heart health because it’s the most important system in the body! …and also because it is my research and interest bias.  A study of over 1.5 million people showed that those individuals who follow a Mediterranean style of eating suffer lower rates of heart disease, cancer, and even neurological disorders like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s than those who do not.  Clearly, those Italians/Spaniards/Greeks/Turks know what they’re doing.
So what is the MedDiet? Like all healthy diets, the MedDiet recommends a focus on whole foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, lean meat, fish, some dairy (but not a lot), and very little red meat.  On top of those key traits, however, is an emphasis on olive oil (and the frequent glass of red wine).  Interestingly, because of the olive oil and nut/seed focus, the MedDiet is actually fairly high in fat (~40%; Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend 30-35%), which goes to show that fat is not the enemy.  To be clear, though, olive oil is rich in monounsaturated fats, while nuts like walnuts are omega-3 rich, both of which are very heart healthy.  Saturated fat is another story.

mdp
One of the many reasons that this eating style promotes overall health is because of the high intake of phytochemicals (compounds in plants that often give the plant a distinct color or fragrance and typically have antioxidant/anti-inflammatory properties).  Many researchers have sought to determine which specific component of the MedDiet is the source of the diet’s benefits.  Olive oil and walnuts are often studied, and while they show significant benefit when either simply added to the diet or substituted for unhealthy fats like butter, they don’t explain everything.  That’s no surprise to you or me (though this type of research plagues nutritional science), and the benefits from the diet likely come from eating simple, whole, fresh foods that have complex and synergistic favorable effects.

MedDiet Score
One of the coolest things (in my opinion) that has come out of all the studies of the MedDiet has been the results that show that you don’t have to eat foods specific to the region in order to realize the value of the diet.  What I mean by that is there are plenty of foods from around the world that are just as healthy as those consumed in the countries bordering the Mediterannean.  For example, Latin (particularly Mexican) foods are near and dear to my heart, and I eat them at least weekly.  A late night visit to nearly all drive-thru burrito joints in the American southwest will prove this, but a dish that includes foods such black beans (legumes), quinoa (whole grains), fresh pico de gallo (vegetables, herbs), and avocado (healthy, monounsaturated fats) can still be consumed whilst following the MedDiet plan.  Research has shown that as long as these types of whole, fresh foods are consumed, it doesn’t matter if they come from the Mediterannean region.  Check out the MedDiet score sheet to see how your diet stacks up!

My Experience
I have been looking forward to doing the MedDiet more than any other diet since I decided to embark on this whole project.  After the hell month that was the Fast Metabolism Diet, I was expecting to have a similar response to the flexibility and joy of the MedDiet as I did when I made the Paleo to Weight Watchers transition.  It didn’t go as smoothly this time around.  While I was restricted on both FMD and Paleo, I didn’t develop the issues with eating/food on Paleo that I did with FMD.  As a recap, when I was following FMD, I felt consistently hungry, restricted, and over-analytical about food.  This resulted in me gorging myself on unhealthy foods because there was no reprieve from the monotony and control of the diet.  I cheated constantly, but I felt no actual enjoyment of what I was eating.
Unfortunately, these issues with food and eating transcended into the first 7-10 days of October.  I ate out of necessity, but I realize now that because of FMD, I had forgotten how to enjoy food – to even really taste it.  Luckily, this issue disappeared before it ruined my whole month.  I eased back into cooking for fun and joy, and I really got to stretch my legs in the kitchen again.  I can’t adequately describe how amazing this felt once I strapped on my proverbial chef hat and got to it.  For the past few months, I haven’t really tried many new recipes, I haven’t experimented much, and I’ve just been in a cooking rut.  But no longer! I didn’t even give a second thought to what I was eating – did it fit into the stipulations for this month’s eating plan? Was it too salty/too high fat/too many points/GMO-free?…and on and on and on.  I felt so much freedom this month.  In general, the MedDiet style of eating is how I like to eat anyways.  When in doubt (of me “following the plan”), I usually just threw in some more veggies to my meal, tossed the finished product with some extra olive oil, and poured myself a glass of wine.  Oh and then ate some dark chocolate for dessert.  Yes, this is real life, and this is actually a great way to eat.  Try it on. I bet you’ll like the way it fits J
Being in the kitchen again and doing it as a hobby instead of out of necessity brought so much joy to me this month.  It’s interesting, cooking in this Mediterranean way.  I felt relaxed, at peace.  Cooking can be meditative for me, and I felt it more this month than I have in a very long time.  Nearly everything I made this month was made from scratch and there is power and beauty in that.  Food is obviously a necessity, but to make it into an art is invigorating.  I loved that about this month. So very much.

Recipes
I already posted a number of recipes that I developed this month.  Here are some of my favorites that I didn’t create, but are worth noting.
Butternut Squash, Chickpea, Lentil Stew– My parents just bought me a crockpot when they were visiting earlier this month (thanks Mom and Dad!), and this was my first creation in it.  I LOVED it!  I was sort of lazy, though, and I didn’t cook anything beforehand, as the recipe recommends – I just threw it all in the crockpot the night before, started it the next morning, and then my house smelled like a freaking dream when I got home.  I topped this stew with toasted pepitas, pine nuts, and walnuts, and served with carrot apple muffins.

Hummus Crusted Chicken – So simple and easy! I didn’t serve mine with the squash and zucchini though.  I roasted carrots with a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and maple syrup for about 30 minutes, and then made a basic spinach salad to go along with all of it.

Kale Ricotta Gnocchi – This takes a little more time than most meals, so I recommend it for a lazy weekend evening.  This was one of those preparations that was meditative and lovely.  I truly enjoyed making this meal.  To make these a tad healthier, I substituted whole wheat flour for the white flour and part skim ricotta for the regular ricotta.  My gnocchi weren’t as pretty as hers, but who cares? They tasted pretty. I pan fried mine in the butter sage sauce and served with roasted butternut squash (tip: I like to leave the skin on my squash while it roasts and let it get nice and crispy.  It just adds another dimension of texture and flavor).
Hope you try some out and enjoy them as much as I did!

Final Stats
I’ll leave you now with the outcomes of this month.  I put on a couple pounds, but they were full of love, olive oil, and happiness so I’m ok with it.  Nothing else too earth shattering to report – but seriously, I can’t recommend this “diet” highly enough.  I hope I’ve made that clear.  Now pour yourself a glass of wine, get in the kitchen, and whip up some joy!

 

Goal/Normal

Smoothies

DASH

Low Fat

Sustainability

FMD

MedDiet

Anthros
Weight

121-60

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

127.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

20

PBF

21-32

19

?

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

27.5

HC

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

38

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

0.72

Blood Pressure

<120/80

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

102/73

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

1920

Protein (%)

Oct-35

17

15

22

19

15-61

16

CHO (%)

49-52

54

52

60

52

28-77

46

Fiber (g)

at least 25

33

30

23

25

30-52

28

Fat (%)

20-35

29

33

18

29

10-46

38

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

7

8

3-7

7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

2127

Potassium (mg)

4700

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

3826

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

6-9

Cost

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

204.3

Fast Metabolism Diet- Where Normal People Go To Develop A Food Complex

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My month of September was spent obsessing over food, as well as hating it.  Both are things I’ve never experienced.  I spent the month following the Fast Metabolism Diet (FMD), a diet developed by Haylie Pomroy, a Hollywood nutritionist with a background in animal science and holistic health.

The Gist of FMD
The purpose of FMD is to “reset your metabolism.” Pomroy explains that many people who have tried and failed countless times at diets and weight loss may be stuck in a rut because their metabolism is out of whack.  Additionally, she believes that counting calories, carbs, and fat grams are the wrong approach to dieting.  These are ideas I generally support. As you’ll see, I don’t believe her approach is the answer either.
Pomroy’s theory is that you can coax your body into metabolizing nutrients more efficiently if you keep it guessing as to what it will be metabolizing next.  This, in theory, makes it run more efficiently.  The idea is to follow this very specific plan for 4 weeks, each week split into three phases.  Doing this will supposedly teach your body how to digest, absorb, and utilize nutrients more efficiently and effectively so that you don’t have to be afraid of ice cream sundaes and so forth.  She recommends doing the full four weeks and then repeating a week at a time here and there if you feel the need.  So before we get started, make sure it’s clear in your mind that this is NOT a long term diet.  It’s the only “phase” diet that I’ve tried thus far.

The Three Phases
I was sort of on board when I had read about as much as you just have (though, being the forever skeptic that I am, I needed more information).  I do believe that we all process nutrients differently, so while a calorie from bread may be burned quickly and effectively in one person, that same calorie may be processed differently for someone else.  Pomroy also does a pretty thorough job of describing the organs involved in metabolism (liver, adrenals, thyroid, pituitary), how they become dysregulated, many of the myths about metabolism and weight loss, etc.  I think this is how people become interested in the diet – I’ve heard some say that they tried it because it was the only diet they had ever heard of that described the physiology of weight loss.
Next, I read about the three phases and they sounded great!

How You Get Roped In
Phase 1 – Days 1 & 2: Lots of carbs and fruits
Purpose: Flood the body with nutrients, calm the adrenals with natural sugars so that it reduces its cortisol production, a stress hormone that is linked to weight gain. Pair these foods with some kind of cardio exercise.  What I didn’t realize until later is that this phase really means NO fat. No cooking with fat, no nuts, no fatty veggies, only very lean meat, etc.

Phase 2 – Days 3 & 4: Lots of protein and veggies
Purpose: These foods push your body to lay down muscle and scavenge fat. Do some kind of heavy weight lifting on these days to ramp up the protein production in muscles.  What I soon realized was that this literally only means meat and vegetables, and nothing starchy.  No fruit, no cooking with fat, no eating nuts, no eating anything fun.

Phase 3– Days 5-7: All of the above plus healthy fats and oils
Purpose: After eating low fat for four days, your digestive enzymes are firing, your muscles are pumped up, and your body has been thriving on nutrient dense foods, so now it’s ready to start using fuel for fat! (These are obviously not my words.  And this phase is where I started to really question things. I don’t know how the previous days have made your digestive enzymes “fire.” They “fire” when you eat anything. Why would your body be suddenly ready to burn fat for fuel? The plot thickens…)

The Reality

Pomroy lays it out all very simply and beautifully in the beginning.  “You’ll eat delicious food, and you’ll be eating more than you ever thought possible on a diet!” she touts.  You GET to eat so much food.  It’s so different from any other diet you’ve ever tried! Just follow these rules:

  1. You must eat 5 times per day, 35 times per week (Not hard for me. I eat throughout the day, every day).
  2. You must eat every three to four hours, except when you’re sleeping. (I’m still on board. I eat more often than that.)
  3. You must eat within 30 minutes of waking. Every day. (Mine’s more like 45-60 minutes, but still not a huge issue).
  4. You must stay on the plan for the full 28 days. (Fine.)
  5. You must stick to the foods allowed in your phase. (OK.)
  6. You must follow the phases in order. (I get it.)
  7. You must drink half your body weight in ounces of water every day. (Not a bad plan. For me, this means ~60 ounces per day).
  8. Eat organic whenever possible. (Get real. I just spent a fortune on organic for a month. Not going to happen.)
  9. Meats must be nitrate free.  (These meats are more expensive, but the rationale here is that if your liver is processing all kinds of other chemicals, it can’t work on burning fat. This is the rationale for the organic thing, and many of the other items in the list below.)

But there are these few “minor” details written in fine print that really change the whole game. Here are all the things you CAN’T eat.

  1. No wheat, unless it is sprouted (Sprouted is supposedly easier for your intestines to absorb.  I’ve never seen the evidence, but sure. Whatever.)
  2. No corn. (Too many GMO’s, apparently.  See my previous post for my take on GMO’s.)
  3. No dairy. (Most cheeses and the like are high fat. Nonfat or lowfat? Pomroy says no because they’re too processed. I don’t agree.)
  4. No soy.  (GMO story again.)
  5. No refined sugar. (This includes all white sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave nectar. Pretty much everything.  You can use stevia if you need to sweeten something.)
  6. No caffeine. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  7. No alcohol. (AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!)
  8. No dried fruit (Dumb) or fruit juices (Meh – whatever).
  9. No artificial sweeteners
  10. No fat free diet foods
  11. Miscellaneous: no peanuts or peanut butter, no rice wine vinegar (I have no idea why not).

I suddenly realized I would spend the next month hating my life.  And so the story goes….

Week One – I HATE EVERYTHING
Below is an excerpt from my journal.
“Huge struggle, feeling deprived, hungry ALL THE TIME.  Joy has been completely sucked out of eating.  Sneaking little cheats everyday.  Phase II is the hardest – I’ve never been so hungry.  Similar to how I felt on Paleo, but so much worse because I can’t eat ANY fruit, starches, nuts, etc.  Brain function is slow on Phase II – exhausted, my head hurts constantly, I used to look forward to eating. Not anymore.”
The caffeine thing was hard in the beginning, but honestly, it only took 3 days to get off it and then I was fine.  The problem that I saw during week one that remained for the rest of the month was that I realized how much I legitimately enjoy drinking coffee – it’s warm and creamy and tastes good and makes me happy.  “How about some decaf,” you propose.  Nope. Decaf still has some caffeine in it (about 15-35% of caffeinated coffee).

Week two – SUCK IT UP. DON’T BE A QUITTER.
These week involved a little bit of soul searching and digging in deep.  I felt so discouraged and unhappy after week one.  Everyone thought I was weird/crazy for continuing on when it 1) appeared to be a stupid diet and 2) I felt so crappy. I thought about it – there was no longer joy in cooking or eating.  It literally felt like a chore to do either.  I didn’t feel any different in that I hadn’t lost any weight and my body seemed to be functioning the same, or worse, than it always had.
Then I realized I needed an attitude adjustment.  I saw a quote that said “Explore what you avoid – it’s important to challenge yourself and take yourself out of your comfort zone.” So I decided that I need to do just that and push myself.  I realized pretty quickly that I didn’t believe that the diet would lead to weight loss and repair a person’s metabolic issues.  But I decided that I would make this a test of my will power, and if I experienced any of the purported benefits, so be it.  After all, one of the main reasons I embarked on this “experiment” was to test my will power.
I did make some adjustments, though, to prevent myself from completely cracking.  For example, I didn’t eat the serving sizes outlined, and I allowed myself to eat some starchy veggies (i.e. carrots, tomatoes, and zucchini) on Phase II days. I also ate greek yogurt with some blueberries on Phase II days a couple of times.  It is amazing how hard it is to eat JUST meat and veggies. That’s all. Nothing else.

Week 3 – Acceptance and Comfort (And how happy hour ruins diets)

I had started to feel better and get a hang of the diet at this point.  I wasn’t STARVING during Phase II, and while I still didn’t really enjoy cooking or eating, I had come to accept that fact.  So, as comfortable as I was, I was equally bored. I still wasn’t seeing any benefit, so I kind of had a “screw this” moment.  I went to happy hour with some friends. I drank a margarita. Sweet, delicious nectar of the gods. I ate pork green chile nachos! I ate guacamole with chips! And it felt great. I didn’t feel guilty or mad or hungry.  I just felt happy.

Week 4 – Who Gives a S**t?
At this point, I was pretty much in the same place, mentally, as week 3, but I no longer felt any kind of investment or loyalty in FMD.  It wasn’t even about will power anymore, I just didn’t care.  I didn’t feel different physically, with the exception of my lack of dependence on caffeine and being extremely hydrated, which were good things.  I didn’t have high energy levels, such as were promised, and I definitely didn’t lose weight.

Final Thoughts
This was the first time that I think I got a glimpse into what it feels like to really be on a diet.  I’d say that I have a whole new respect for people who diet, but I don’t.  No one should ever make themselves feel that sad over food.  Pomroy writes that people need to lose the demons that they have created with food, but her diet does exactly the opposite.  I’ve never had issues with food, but I developed real ones with this.  The feeling of cheating on the diet was exhilarating and made me happy initially, but I would end up feeling like a failure later on.  And this happened literally every day for a month.  10 days into October, and I still feel like I have an unhealthy relationship with food.  While doing FMD, I would cheat on the diet, but practically gorge myself on my cheat foods. I didn’t really savor the food – I felt more of a sense of panic.  And this is never what food should be for anyone.  Portion control is important.  Making healthy choices is important.  But developing a longing that is never truly satiated because of the guilt that you feel for eating “unhealthy” foods is never okay.  Overall, I hated this month, but at least it gave me an idea of what people put themselves through.  And I can now tell from experience, there are so many better ways.

In other news, the first time I drank coffee was pretty much the happiest moment of my recent life.  Happier than when I got my job in CO or got my PhD or even got my dog.  I had reached the point where I was fine without caffeine.  I was functioning just great. But then I drank coffee, and the world came alive! I couldn’t believe I’d tricked myself into thinking I was okay! I could get so many things done! I was nicer! I was funnier! My brain and body worked better! Colors were brighter! The birds sang prettier! … and I think this is what drug addicts say about their respective vices…

Anyways, take a gander at the table below to see what days on FMD looked like for me.  These were really the best of the best days, where I didn’t cheat (much).  In particular, make note of the calorie counts.  Yeah, you’ll be eating “so much delicious food.” What a crock!
You’ll also see that I did not lose weight, my blood pressure looks pretty good (I think we can thank the lack of caffeine for that), and I spent way too much money. Thanks for nothin’, FMD!

Phase 1 Phase 2 Phase 3
Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate Recommended What I ate
Breakfast Oatmeal fruit smoothie 1 c Oatmeal w/strawberries, sweetened with stevia; herbal tea Spanish egg white scramble Egg white scramble w/green chiles, bell peppers, red onions, Sriracha; herbal tea Toast, egg, tomato, red onion, 1/2 avocado Sprouted grain toast + 1 T almond butter + cinnamon; jicama spears; herbal tea
Snack Asian Pear Apple Smoked salmon w/cucumbers 1 C celery, 1 C carrots; 3 pieces nitrate free turkey meat 1/3 cup hummus and cucumbers Peach + raspberries
Lunch Open faced turkey sandwich (1 slice bread) Nitrate free turkey sandwich on sprouted wheat bread (2 slices) w/mustard, cucumbers, spinach; 2 small plums Tuna and cucumber salad 1 can tuna, red onion, cucumber, hard boiled egg white, cilantro, lime juice Endive tuna salad 2 C coconut curry chicken
Snack 2 kiwi 2 rice cakes, 1 c carrots, pear 1-2 oz buffalo jerky Turkey jerky, 1 C cucumber spears Celery + 2 T raw almond butter 2 T hummus, 1/2 c carrots, 1/2 c celery
Dinner 2 cups chicken and barley soup 2 cups baby kale + 1/2 c quinoa + 1/2 c black beans + carrots + cucumbers, lime juice Steak and asparagus lettuce wrap Broiled salmon, 1 c steamed broccoli w/garlic and lemon juice, baby kale salad w/cucumber & balsamic vinegar Coconut curry chicken Black bean + avocado + sauteed veggie burrito (sprouted wheat tortilla)
Snack None Rice crackers None Greek yogurt, dozen blueberries, stevia; herbal tea None Handful of mixed nuts
Total Calories 845 1,150 750 925 1,210 1,690
 

Goal/Normal

Baseline Data Vegan Paleo WW Gluten Free Smoothies DASH Low Fat Sustain-
ability
FMD
Anthro
Weight

121-60

127.5

127.5

128.5

124

120

124

123.5

123

123

125.5

BMI

18.5-24.9

20

20

20.1

19.5

19

19.5

19.5

19.25

19.25

19.7

PBF

21-32

21.4

21.2

20.6

21.3

18.5

19

?

?

?

?

WC

<35

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

27.5

?

26.5

27

27

HC

38.5

37.5

38

38

38

38

?

36.5

37

37.5

W:H Ratio

<0.8

0.71

0.73

0.72

0.72

0.72

0.72

?

0.73

0.73

0.72

BP

<120/80

113/77

101/69

105/72

110/70

93/65

92/68

91/68

103/66

103/68

95/65

Diet
Total kcal

2000-2200

1975

1809

1965

1900

1850

1980

1865

1780

1905

925-1688

Protein (g)

77.5

57

100

75

78

80

70

89

44-141

Protein (%)

Oct-35

16

12%

20

16

17

17

15

22

19

15-61

CHO (%)

49-52

51

39-50

47

54

52

54

52

60

52

28-77

Fiber (g)

at least 25

26

42

32

27

29

33

30

23

25

30-52

Fat (%)

20-35

29.5

44-54

47

30

31

29

33

18

29

10-46

Sat Fat (%)

<10

7

8

8

7

7

7

8

7

8

3-7

Sodium (mg)

2300

2587

2527

2132

2370

2250

2320

2147

2315

2282

1250-1740

Potassium (mg)

4700

3479

4109

3742

3628

3658

3925

3874

3143

3746

4014-4624

Fruit/Veg (servings)

5-9

3-7

8-12

6-8

5-7

6-8

8-10

7-9

4-6

5-7

8-12

Cost

192.59

206.38

120.97

128.57

135.42

127.32

145.2

254.45

195.14

Dr. Oz’s “Three” Day Smoothie “Detox”

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As part of my Month O’ Smoothies Challenge, I decided to do one day of nothin but smoothies.  (As a reminder, my “diet” for this month is replacing my breakfast with a delicious, produce packed smoothie. Just one a day, nothing too crazy.)

There is a definite craze going on these days that supports the notion that we need to “detox” our bodies.  It’s hard to make a list of my least favorite  words that arise whenever people want to talk about health and nutrition because there are so many of them, but “detox” definitely makes the top 10…along with “anti-nutrient” (see my original post on Paleo for more information on that).  “Detox” is one of those very vague terms that floats around the media.  No one really knows what it means, but it sounds important, so people keep saying it.  Here are some important questions that you should chew over when considering a “detox.”
Q: What are the toxins of which you’re ridding your body when you go on a “detox”?
A: Pesticides? Inflammatory molecules? Antinutrients? Cancer? The boogey man?
I use question marks in my answer because I don’t know what the answer is.
Q: How, exactly, are drinking a bunch of fruits and vegetables going to rid your body of these toxins?
A: I’m not knocking fruits and veggies here.  If you’ve been paying attention this year, I’ve got nothing bad to say about them. But, unless you’re eating organic, you’re actually going to introduce pesticides (and who knows if that’s even a bad thing? I’ll go into detail on that when I do my Sustainability Month). Eating fruits and veggies that are packed with anti-inflammatory agents will promote health and reduce the production of pro-inflammatory molecules, but they aren’t going to get rid of the ones you have.  You can actually just eat lots of fruits and veggies on the reg — there isn’t some transformative value of putting them in a blender that gives them miniature superhero capes. And doing it for a day only isn’t really going to do anything at all.
Q: Does the body lack the ability to get rid of “toxins” (put simply, things that are bad for us)?
A: No, it doesn’t.  It actually has some really incredible organs called the small intestine, liver, and kidneys whose jobs are to prevent bad stuff from getting in / getting rid of The Badness when it does get in.  These organs stop working properly when they aren’t treated properly (i.e. binge drinking, doing drugs, eating an unhealthy diet).  The body is composed of a pretty incredible set of systems, and a single “detox” isn’t going to do much for them.  In fact, a detox could actually hurt those organs, because they require a proper balance of nutrients to work, and most “detox” programs are deficient in nearly every nutrient. A better program is to just eat a healthy diet full of foods that are packed with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory rich components pretty much all the time.  But that just doesn’t have that glamorous ring to it, does it?
Q: What about cleanses? Aren’t those good? Don’t I need to cleanse my body? (This is sort of a tangential thought, but it seemed like the right time to answer this question).
A: No.  See above answer about the organs that get rid of bad crap — same thing.  Also, anything that involves a “colon cleanse” is a bad idea.  There are lots of really beneficial bacteria that have formed a symbiotic relationship with your gut – they live off what you eat and they help to promote a healthy immune system and overall keep your insides happy.  Don’t get rid of them. YOUR COLON SHOULD NEVER BE CLEAN (unless you’re getting a colonoscopy. Have fun with that).

The Detox
I decided to follow Dr. Oz’s three day smoothie detox because 1) I saw it on Pinterest, so I figured lots of other people had too; 2) I didn’t look for any others. This doesn’t mean that I support anything Dr. Oz says or does.  I don’t know everything he says because it makes me too angry to listen to him, but I do know that he’s a really important contributor to the propagation of whack ass health information out there. He’s making my life harder than it needs to be. Anyways, back to my smoothie challenge.  I decided ahead of time that I was only going to follow this thing for a day because it’s so low in calories, and I’m not trying to lose weight.  Also, I didn’t want to become a huge bitch due to not eating for a few days.  I was really just thinking about everyone else. You’re welcome, loved ones.

Here’s how it goes:

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I did take a fish oil supplement because I had one.  I didn’t take a multivitamin or a probiotic supplement because I didn’t have those, and I wasn’t going to spend money on them.  I also decided to do a nutrient analysis to see what my intake was for that day:

Nutrients Target Average Eaten Status
Total Calories 2000 Calories 1047 Calories Under
Protein (g)*** 46 g 21 g Under
Protein (% Calories)*** 10 – 35% Calories 8% Calories Under
Carbohydrate (g)*** 130 g 170 g OK
Carbohydrate (% Calories)*** 45 – 65% Calories 65% Calories OK
Dietary Fiber 25 g 37 g OK
Total Fat 20 – 35% Calories 36% Calories Over
Saturated Fat < 10% Calories 13% Calories Over
Monounsaturated Fat No Daily Target or Limit 11% Calories No Daily Target or Limit
Polyunsaturated Fat No Daily Target or Limit 8% Calories No Daily Target or Limit
Cholesterol < 300 mg 0 mg OK
Minerals Target Average Eaten Status
Calcium 1000 mg 658 mg Under
Potassium 4700 mg 3485 mg Under
Sodium** < 2300 mg 610 mg OK
Copper 900 µg 2840 µg OK
Iron 18 mg 8 mg Under
Magnesium 310 mg 405 mg OK
Phosphorus 700 mg 595 mg Under
Selenium 55 µg 13 µg Under
Zinc 8 mg 4 mg Under
Vitamins Target Average Eaten Status
Vitamin A 700 µg RAE 698 µg RAE Under
Vitamin B6 1.3 mg 1.6 mg OK
Vitamin B12 2.4 µg 0.0 µg Under
Vitamin C 75 mg 295 mg OK
Vitamin D 15 µg 1 µg Under
Vitamin E 15 mg AT 16 mg AT OK
Vitamin K 90 µg 833 µg OK
Folate 400 µg DFE 263 µg DFE Under
Thiamin 1.1 mg 0.9 mg Under
Riboflavin 1.1 mg 1.2 mg OK
Niacin 14 mg 7 mg Under

Clearly, I was deficient in nearly every nutrient, which is to be expected when there is absolutely no variety in the types of foods you’re eating. Some whole grains and a couple of lean protein sources could have done this body some good.  I was kind of surprised that this day didn’t provide more fiber (37 g is still pretty substantial, but that’s the goal for the average man, so it’s really not that much).  What’s most interesting to me is that a standard low calorie diet that is prescribed to someone trying to lose weight is 1200 calories.  This was only 150 shy of that, and I can think of a lot of lean, satiating foods that I could have eaten with the same number of calories and felt a lot better.  But pain is health, right? …Wrong.

My Experience

This day was pretty hard for me.  I tried to drink the smoothies slowly so that there wouldn’t be much time in between meals for me to get hungry.  It worked between breakfast and lunch, and I wasn’t too terribly hungry.  But the lunch smoothie was pretty weird.  The consistency was more like apple sauce than a smoothie, and I ended up eating it with a spoon.  It was also the only time that I did any chewing throughout the day, and it was pretty unsatisfying.  Which brings me to things that I couldn’t stop thinking about throughout the day: chewing, food, food, chewing, food, food, I hate vegetables, chewing, I hate fruit, food, food, food.  I also had some interesting cravings for things I really never crave including BBQ chips, fried chicken, orange chicken, fettucine alfredo, and Olive Garden breadsticks. Now that I’m not hungry, those things sound gross to me, but that’s what a day of low calories, low fat, low protein, and no salt will do to you. I’m pretty sure my attempt to detoxify my system only made me want to re-toxify by the end. Not really much of a homerun on the health front.
However, the smoothies were actually really good (minus lunch, whose flavor was nice, but was too weird of a texture to want to enjoy again), and I have since made them for breakfast. As you may have guessed, I noticed no positive changes in how I felt.  No little health cherubs descended from the heavens and kissed my forehead and eradicated all my ailments.  I ended the day disappointed and hungry and then went back to my normal, overall healthy eating pattern the next day.  What a sad, boring story.

The “eat all the healthy food and a little of the unhealthy food” plan

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I’ve received a couple requests to post more often, but it’s probably not going to happen. My dissertation is due very soon (in like a week), and then I’ve got that whole dissertation defense thing to do, all of which takes precedent over 2013, With a Grain of Salt (sorry).  However, I have been following the Weight Watchers Points Plus diet plan for the last twelve days, and in general, I feel like this baby elephant:

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The Premise Behind Weight Watchers

Weight Watchers (WW) is a commercial weight loss/maintenance plan, in which foods are assigned a point value, and you keep track of your points everyday (or almost everyday…more on that in a minute).

When you sign up for WW, you input some data about yourself (sex, age, height, weight, physical activity level), and it calculates the number of points you are allotted/day.

No one gets less than 26 or more than 71 points per day.  If you’re like me and don’t want to pay for WW, you can figure out your point allowance via many blogs and tutorials.  I would put a link to the one I used, but WordPress temporarily disabled my blog when I did that, so you’re just going to have to do the really hard work of Googling it yourself, much like I did.

No matter what your daily point allowance, you also get 49 extra points per week.  You can spread these throughout the week, or if you know that you have some event coming up (like a big dinner or party in which alcoholic beverage consumption may also take place), you can save them and use them all at once.  I really like this feature because it puts the emphasis on looking at your diet over a longer period of time (week vs. day), and it flexibility is intrinsically built into the plan.

In 2010, WW moved to WW PointsPlus, and some really important changes came with that.  On the old program, the focus was solely on calorie intake, so you could technically eat Twinkies and ramen noodles all day, as long as you didn’t eat a lot of them and remained within your point goal.  In 2010, the program changed to focus on the quality of those calories, and I can’t emphasize enough how important that is.  The new algorithm to determine the points of a food is as follows:

[(Fat(g)/3.9)+(Carb(g)/9.2)+(Protein(g)/10.9)-Fiber(g)/12.5)]=points

As you can see, foods that are high in protein and/or fiber will cost you fewer points than foods high in fat and carbohydrates, thus shifting your focus overall to healthier foods.

Most fruits and vegetables are 0 points, so you can eat lots of those (as you should).  Potatoes, avocadoes, fruit juices, and dried fruit aren’t 0 points, which means that you can still eat them, but assigning a point value forces you to not overeat them.

Activity also factors into the equation, and the more you exercise, the more points you can add back into your day/week. In general, burning 80 kcals translates to 1 point.  So, for a woman of my weight, 15 minutes of medium intensity work = 1 point, whereas 15 minutes of high intensity work (i.e. running)= 2 points.

There is also the Power Foods List, which is handy for days that you don’t want to track your points, for whatever reason.  The recommendation on those days is to eat from the Power Foods list to the point of feeling satisfied (not full), and you’ll be able to stay on track with your weight loss/maintenance goal.

Why Weight Watchers Works
WW was named one of the best diets of 2012 by U.S. News and World Report.  It was #1 for the best weight loss diet as well as easiest diet to follow.

Ease of Use
When you sign up for WW, you get access to all their online tools and a phone app that calculates all your points for you (I calculate them myself, which is a pain in the ass).  You’re also given an accelerometer which measures your activity throughout the day, and these are actually pretty expensive to come by.  Also, the Power Foods list (see above) makes life a lot easier.

Weight Loss Effectiveness
There is a huge support system of other people who are following the diet plan, and you can go to in-person meetings or use online forums that allow you to hash out your struggles and share ideas with other people.  Having a support system is one of the main predictors of successful weight loss, in part because you can get ideas from others.  It also makes you accountable to something other than yourself, and most of us know that, if left to our own devices, we typically aren’t always motivated to do what’s best for ourselves.  (My accountability throughout this whole process is to my blog.  Even if no one reads it, I like to pretend there are a lot of you who will ridicule me and hold me in contempt if I don’t follow through with this. It keeps me motivated.)

Weight loss studies have evaluated characteristics of people who are most likely to lose weight and keep it off compared to those who are not successful, and the number one behavior is self-monitoring.  It requires a lot of work to track your diet, but it is extremely effective because knowledge is power and it forces you to be honest with yourself.  It may be a lot of work, but consider any change you’ve ever made, and I can guarantee that the changes that were the most fruitful were also the ones that required the most will power and dedication.

Weight Loss Maintenance
Before I even looked into WW in any real depth, I always recommended it to people who ask me for weight loss advice.  The reasons for this are two-fold:
1) People typically don’t listen to me (or any nutrition professional) when they are given advice because making changes are hard and it’s human nature to follow the path of least resistance.  It turns out that this is the same path that makes you fat and unhealthy. Thus, it’s easier for me to recommend a program that will teach someone everything they need to know. It saves me time, and if people are paying for something, they’re probably more likely to put in the effort to reap the benefits of that service.
2) (This is the less selfish and more important aspect) WW teaches you how to eat healthy, long term.  Studies indicate that weight loss itself isn’t the most challenging aspect of weight control, but maintaining that weight loss is where you have to dig in deep and force those changes to become a way of life.  WW allows you to eat normal food and even unhealthy food, though portion control and moderation are built into the point system.  It also emphasizes healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and low-fat or nonfat dairy.  It’s really built for real people who aren’t health freaks. So, if you pay attention to the tools at your disposal while following WW, the transition off of WW will likely be much smoother and you’ll be more likely to maintain the weight loss for which you worked so hard.  Other diet plans like NutriSystem provide all the food for you, so you never really learn how to cook healthy foods; thus, weight regain (also termed “recidivism” in the scientific community) is a huge issue with these diets.

My Life as a Weight Watcher
I’m not paying for WW because a) it’s sort of expensive ; b) I’m not trying to lose weight; and 3) this is an experiment to test how realistic dietary plans are, and I’m getting that information by paying no dollars/month. However, for someone who does want to lose weight, I do not recommend going about it the way I am because it’s way more work, and there are so many tools that support you in your health and weight loss goals that you’ll be missing out on by being a cheap ass.

  • I get 26 points/day, which is the lowest allowance possible.  Makes sense since a person with a BMI of 20 shouldn’t really be trying to lose weight.
  • I track my points in my journal, which really makes me wish that I had the online tools.  I feel like an analog girl living in a digital world.  This is also what we could call a Generation Y problem.
  • I started by just tracking my normal diet to see how many points I typically eat, which came out to 26-30. Again, no surprise there, as I’m a weight stable individual and not prone to binging.
  • I kind of got really into tracking my points though, and I had it in my head that I was only allowed 26 points/day.  I forgot about those extra 49 points/week, so, if I wasn’t planning on using a bunch at once, I could/should go up to 33 points/day.  I also forgot about adding my activity points into my daily allotment.  And because of that, I lost 2 pounds in the first 10 days.  Oops.  BUT, it does show you how easy it can be to lose weight on this plan!
  • I find that I am gravitating towards eating fruits and vegetables more than I maybe normally would because they are zero points, so I don’t have to track them. Almost every snack I eat is a fruit or a vegetable.  Well played, WW.
  • I’ve also started eating from the Power Foods list as many days as I can because that also reduces the amount of writing/point calculating I have to do.
  • Mixed meals are the hardest points to calculate and the most work, but for most things, I can just Google whatever food it is, and someone has probably already calculated it.  Thanks, internet.
  • Another goal of WW is the whole 8×8 trick (drink 8 8-oz glasses of water/day).  This is good for me because I definitely don’t drink enough water, and I do track this everyday because I know it’s the hardest thing for me to do. And seriously. It’s so hard.  I haven’t had a day yet where I met this goal. I’m working on it!

Overall, I am elated to be a Weight Watcher after my month on Paleo.  I get to eat things like black beans, and hummus, and cous cous, and oatmeal, and whole grain pasta, and feta, and I’m just so happy. I was also yogurt sober for TWO WHOLE MONTHS. I’m pretty sure I haven’t done that since I started eating that delicious bacteria enriched dairy treat as a young tyke, and I plan on never doing it ever again. You can’t tame this wild beast.

**If anyone from Weight Watchers International, Inc. happened to stumble upon this blog post and wanted to give me access to some online tools for all the great advertising I’m doing, free of charge, I wouldn’t fight it.  Also, if some of the information I’ve said here is wrong, though I’m pretty sure it’s not, you should definitely give me access to all your information, so I can stop misinforming the masses (i.e. all 10 of my followers).