Tag Archive: nutrition

A Case For Letting People Diet

Whenever a friend or family member (or Facebook friend) mentions starting a new diet – vegan, vegetarian, paleo, Atkins, whatever – there’s always a knee jerk reaction to say “Diets don’t work!” Those of us who’ve made peace with our eating habits are the first to scoff and say things like, “Just eat less crap” or “Just eat less” or even “You’re going to gain it all back.” But here’s the thing – how many diets did it take us to reach these conclusions? How many times did we “start over” with our diet or choke down salad 500 times a day? Some of us were born into families with happy balances with their food and bodies that never needed to “diet.” In reality, though, majority of people struggle with this.

So why should we let our poor friends go through this?

First of all, think of yourself some two, five, ten years ago. For some of you the “Eat less crap” would have been a light bulb moment that lead you into a life of health and happiness. For others, it would have been met with blank stares.  Remember the first time you proclaimed you were going on a diet. Imagine if one of your well-meaning friends told you, “You’re doing it wrong, idiot!” How many of you would have taken their advice? How many of you would have punched the jerk in the face?

To a lot of people the journey is really where they pick up invaluable information about themselves. Sometimes it takes going on a ketogenic diet for someone to learn that their body NEEDS carbs (or that going low carb was fantastic for them). Maybe they fall off the wagon because it doesn’t work, but when they decide to diet again they have the background knowledge. They’ve learned that they can’t do diet X against because of Y and Z, so next time they find something else.

It’s this long, often frustrating journey that people have to embark on to gather their own series of experiences to shape their eating and exercise habits in the future. When they eventually find their inner peace it may or may not be with a mainstream diet. Maybe they did just “stop eating crap” or maybe they’ve decided Paleo is perfect for them. Who are we to judge? There are plenty of people who stick to these mainstream diets that we parrot “fail” because it falls in line with their personal preferences. A lot of these diets come with cookbooks and meal plans that can save our friends time, money and energy. They give guidance and direction in a diet industry that throws out so much conflicting information.

Next time a friend goes on a “diet” try to avoid being THAT asshole that tries to convince them otherwise. Let your friends experiment with food and recipes and exercise and be supportive. Let them see how their body reacts to different types of food and support them when they’re low. Don’t try to sabotage them to make a point – they’re your friends!  They need to embark on their own journey to reach the same inner peace that you have.

Eating healthy is expensive and not for everyone. Stop saying it is

Normally “Science Sunday” involves a lot of science jargon along the lines of biology, but this Science Sunday is brought to you by another type of science: social science. I was a sociology minor in undergrad and learned a lot about the complex issues regarding class, gender, race, etc. Anyway, that aside, I want to tackle some posts I see on Tumblr that involve pictures showing a bunch of McDonalds food with a price tag on is versus a plate of veggies with a lower price tag on it. Usually this is partnered with some self-serving “EATING HEALTHY IS SO MUCH CHEAPER!” blah blah. Well, it’s not. And it’s not for everyone. Sit down, buckle up, and get ready for some sociology to come atcha.

1. Food Deserts

PBS did a great article on this, but I’ll summarize. In some places in the country there are no grocery stores for 20+ miles. Yep. Some of you will scoff at that, but let’s put that into perspective. You have to pay for gas to make it the 20 miles there (say you get 15 miles/gallon, as some old cars do, that’s over a gallon of gas one way), then allot the time to do it (say it’s a freeway, 60 mph – 20 minutes to get there), you’ll probably have to take the kids with you because you’re going to be gone for over an hour, you get there, buy your stuff (but you’re competing with people all around you within a 20 mile radius where they are also in a food desert) which may be picked over, then head the 1 gallon/20 minutes home with the kids in the car. OR you could roll through the nearest McDonalds that’s about a mile away and buy some stuff off the dollar menu. Most of these places with food deserts are filled with low income families that cannot afford 2 gallons (at $3.25 per gallon) of gas, plus over an hour of travel with all their kids or family members, to travel to a grocery store some 20 miles away when they can get fast food in town. The town mentioned in the article had one convenience store that didn’t sell fruit or vegetables, and had a small quantity of cold cuts.

Moral of the story? Some people just don’t have access to a grocery store, much less fresh fruit and veggies, regardless of how “cheap” you’ve decided they are.

2. Gas and Cars

I touched on this above, but I’ll dive deeper now. America’s fattest county is also America’s poorest county. Poverty may mean different things to different people, but for this it means living below the poverty line set up by the government. Let’s pretend you’re below the poverty line and we’ll prioritize your finances. Roof over your head > bills to ensure water/electric/etc > food for your kids > clothes for yourself and kids > school supplies > car/truck/vehicle. There are a lot of expenses that come well before owning a car or paying for gas. These poor counties have no public transportation. One cannot just “hop on the bus” to get to where they need to go. Ride a bike? 20 miles to the nearest grocery store to buy food for a family of 4? If access to food is more than a certain amount of miles away then it’s considered unreachable. While you may be able to keep your gas tank full, that doesn’t mean others can.

3. Food Stamps and Government Benefits

Never been on food stamps? A cursory look at the list of what’s allowed on food stamps and what is not allowed on food stamps makes it hard to understand how someone can be obese if they’re on this stuff. But, wait, are these foods even ACCESSIBLE to some people? Remember the grocery stores from above? They don’t have some of these “allowed” foods! Most of these people shop at convenience stores, and according to the website, the following things are NOT allowed on food stamps.

Food that will be eaten in the store.

Hot foods.

Hot foods aren’t a problem, but “Food that will be eaten in the store”? So…everything in a convenience store. You see the problem here? It doesn’t help that these same counties lead the nation in reliance on food stamps.

4. Location, Location, Location!

Like I mentioned with the food deserts, where you live dramatically impacts whether or not you have access to certain foods. It also dramatically impacts the cost of your food. So while these little pictures float around showing an avocado for fifty cents, I have to roll my eyes. When I lived on the West coast I could get an avocado out of my backyard, or even go to the Farmers Market and buy one for that much. I now live in the South, and let me tell you, they had 3/$5 the other day and I about shit myself. That is considered extremely cheap. Likewise, I can pick my own blueberries out here (if I drive about an hour) and it may cost me $10 for what would cost $50 on the West coast. Where you live DRAMATICALLY determines the cost of the food. Shopping at Walmart for groceries, for instance, may have cheaper chicken, but they also don’t tend to have your cage free cruelty free skin free chicken that is so cheap at your local Farmers Market. Catching on? Some people don’t have access to some of the amazing food you do.

5. Time

Some people will probably say, “Well, just grow your own food!” Let’s get some advice on how to start growing your own food, say from an organic site?

2. Start small, 25 square feet for example. Find the spot that ideally has sun all year in your yard. If it’s shaded part of the year, that’s OK too. Avoid the area next to buildings or fences because of possible contamination of the soil by paint, heavy metals or chemicals.

Whoa, whoa, whoa! 25 square feet?! If you live in an apartment or government issued housing, that’s no “small” space! Sun all year round? Not near a building? This isn’t sounding promising. What about yield? There’s no way this 25 square foot “small” garden has enough space for an entire family!

This family, however, has it down pat. They grow enough food for their entire family on 1/5th of an acre in Pasadena, CA. Let’s first ignore the advantages of having amazing weather year around (or that solar energy device that isn’t cheap) and look at what the crux of this is: time. They work from sun up to sun down 6 days a week. If you’re a single mother of 2 working more than one job, this isn’t attainable. In fact, if you’re a single person not needing to feed anyone else in your family except yourself with a job, this is still unattainable. Unless your children don’t go to school and you can condemn them to slave labor, still unattainable. What people don’t understand is that time is a variable in eating healthy, one that a lot of people don’t have.

I’ll save this from becoming lengthy and sum it up for you: if you can eat healthy, if you have access to fresh or semi fresh produce, if you’re close to a grocery store or can use public transportation, you are incredibly lucky. You are part of a minority that doesn’t have to worry IF they will eat today, rather, WHAT they will eat. While you may feel self important touting how it’s soooo much cheaper to eat healthy/vegan/vegetarian/dairy free/etc., remember your audience. You’re speaking to the internet, full of people who can afford computers and have public access. You’re ignoring a growing population that is so poor and so cut off from the world because of it they’re getting their meals from a convenience store.

Next time you want to reblog a picture showing how cheap it is to eat healthy, don’t.

Struggling to lose weight? Measure your food

So, I’ve already told you that you’re very likely to overestimate the amount of calories you burn. Want to know what mistake #2 is? People tend to UNDERESTIMATE the amount of calories they eat. Even those of us who use diet planners, apps, etc. tend to underestimate our portion sizes. To get deeper into this I carried my camera with me into the kitchen all week and compared perceived portion size with weighed and measured size.

Example One: The Sweet Potato Fiasco

I love these guys and buy about 2-3 at a time. I always pick out the smallest ones in the batch since I don’t really eat the whole thing if it’s super large. When I track them in My Fitness Pal, I tend to log them as “medium” or “large.” Like this –

I ate two sweet potatoes this week and measured them in grams.

Since there was a pretty sizable difference I went on CalorieKing and found calories/gram of a 377 gram sweet potato.

Oh. That’s a pretty huge difference. If I ate the entire potato I’d be underestimating by about 200 calories, depending on the size of the potato. Imagine if I considered it a “small” potato, as I sometimes thought my potato was!

Example Number Two: “Level Scoops”

When people measure peanut butter they say that it’s a LEVEL scoop. This works great for wet products, but what about dry ones like almonds? I decided to see for myself.

1/4 a cup of almonds = 30g. Okay.

Blame the angle, but I could “levelly” fit about 3 or 4 more almonds in there. Not a big deal, unless you eat almonds multiple times a day.

Example Number Three: Cereal

This is my weak spot. I consider a serving of cereal a bowl full and put in enough almond milk to drown whatever it is.

Just FYI, I counted 20 biscuits. Not THAT big of a deal, but again – if you’re stuck at a plateau and nothing is budging this may be why. On the right is 4oz of milk. Yeah, I usually double that. Meaning I’m only counting half the calories. Whoops.

Example Four: Fruits and Veggies

I’m going to use a banana as this example, since everyone’s version of the size of a banana is different. I considered mine “medium.”

CalorieKing called a medium banana 118g.

Not bad! Pretty close! Go me! The issue here? MFP says “medium.” What the hell is “medium”? That’s pretty variable, especially depending on the time of the year.

Take Home Message

If you’re counting calories and not losing weight, it may be your portions. Without measuring, or weighing, it’s hard to tell how much you’re ACTUALLY taking in. With unpackaged food the words “medium” and “small” mean very different things to very different people. I could write pages and pages with picture examples of how this was true for me, but I think this is sufficient. Until you are aware of portion sizes it’s best to measure everything out to make sure you’re not sneaking an extra hundred calories here or there. That’s not to say that you should devote your life to measuring out every tiny bit of food – that’s just silly. And impossible. But if you’ve found that you’re at a weight loss plateau you should look here, because portion sizes are the likely culprit.

Can eating chocolate help you lose weight?

So I heard about this yesterday on NPR and was intrigued. Finally, someone created a controlled study to test whether or not chocolate has metabolic effects like people proclaim! Surely this will settle the score on the thermic effect of food in relation to so called “metabolism boosting foods!”

Nope. Not even.

This is anecdotal evidence where a doctor asked people if they were chocoholics or not and compared their BMI. First of all, we all know how flawed BMI is. My BMI is the same as someone my height and weight, but with significantly less muscle mass than me, or significantly more. Plus, I have a heavier stature than the average human being so my BMI borders on overweight. Yep. I wear a size 2-4 and I’m considered borderline overweight.


Cause =/= effect. The conclusion drawn was that people who IDENTIFIED as chocoholics (key word: identified) were on average 5-7 lbs lighter than those who did not. Her caveat is that when a person reached high levels of chocolate consumption they weighed more on average.

My thoughts: everything in moderation is the take home message here. Eating 3,500 calories over maintenance is what makes you gain weight, not certain foods/food groups, etc!