Chamomile Tea Latte vs M&M's.
I just realized how long it's been since I posted on this blog. The summer got away from me, and now it's time to hibernate and get back to contemplating all that is food.
I love food this time of year. The butternut and winter squashes, yams, sweet potatoes, fresh basil, avocados, greens, sweet apples and Asian pears are all in abundance. Quinoa and black bean salads, butternut squash and coconut milk soup, Three Sisters salad, apple and pear crisp, homemade chili, lentil stew and mashed yams. All my favorites and so wonderfully nourishing and satisfying.
BUT! The first arrival of snack pack M&M's
just arrived at the office and that old sugar monkey squealed its high
pitched cry directly in my ear. It took me by surprise and my heart filled with both excitement and dread as I was reminded of the annual war that I must battle to fight the barrage of sugary goodness (and evilness) that is pelted at me regularly from October 1st to January 1st.
What to do.
I have my old standards (see "Taking on Sugar" from last October), but my new line of defense came to me through a client: Chamomile Tea Latte. OK, I know this doesn't sound like a worthy opponent to the M&M, but I tried it last night, and I have to say, it was a truly satisfying thing that put my sweet craving to bed. And it's so simple: You steep a chamomile tea bag in hot water, add some agave or honey to taste, then add some heated unsweetened hemp milk (about 1/4 cup) to the mix. It was a real treat. Very light, creamy and sweet. As I drank it, I thought of all the other variations to try with it: Substituting the hemp milk with coconut or almond milk or adding some ground nutmeg, ginger or cinnamon for a bit more spice and warmth. It's a great treat, especially in the evening when you don't want the caffeine and need something sweet. I'm thinking of bringing the whole kit to work so I can have this after lunch and in the afternoon, when my need for sugar ramps up.
I'm gearing up for the three month sugar feeding-frenzy and am doing what I can to get my sweet kick in other, less consequential places. This tea is now #1 on my list.
July 5, 2011
The High Price of Eating Well
One of the main complaints I receive my clients who have either been engaging in the Elimination Diet or are simply changing to a healthier diet is, "I feel great, but this food is expensive!"
And it is. It's particularly painful if you have been used to shopping at mainstream supermarkets, eating highly processed or packaged foods, or eating meals out at fast food restaurants. Many of the foods (especially corn, soy, grains, meat and dairy) sold at these places are highly subsidized by our government. This keeps food costs low so the savings gets passed along to you, which sounds ideal until you realize the multiple downsides to this practice: Most of the products that contain these foods aren't the healthiest (high fructose corn syrup, anyone?). We repeatedly get drawn to these foods because of their low cost and this over-consumption predisposes us to developing food sensitivities, among other health issues.
When you choose to eat a healthier diet, the heavily processed foods go out the window, and you're left with foods that cost exponentially more. Smaller farms and producers don't receive the same subsidies that larger companies do, so there are less savings to pass on to you. The sticker shock from purchasing organic fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, seeds and sustainable fish can be jaw-dropping and discouraging. And if your pockets aren't deep enough to sustain such a diet, you'll be forced back to eating the highly processed foods that got you here in the first place. It's a disappointing dilemma.
What to do?
My first recommendation is to swallow hard, pinch your nose and ... accept it. Short of becoming a food activist (and until we can get a fairer Farm Bill in place), acceptance of this unfortunate system is the first thing you have to cultivate. My favorite saying is, "I'd rather pay my grocer than my doctor." (And it's true, I would.) So you accept the fact that you must pay more to eat better and you figure out ways to make it happen.
If the budget is tight and there is little wiggle room for paying higher food prices, think of how you can make financial concessions in other areas of your life. Discontinue the cable; eat out less by packing your lunch and snacks to work; change your morning latte from Starbucks to a cup of coffee at home; accept that you don't need as many new clothes as you think you do; change your wireless phone plan to a more affordable one. There are hundreds of ways you can save in other areas which allow you to spend more on your food. These are worthwhile and relatively painless exchanges when you consider the benefits versus the costs.
In making the shift to affording a healthier diet, it's also important to rely less on packaged and prepared foods. One would think the idea of eating healthier would mean you're eating less packaged foods, but in most cases, this is where the spending really ramps up. The Whole Food-type of markets are a wonderland of specialty health food items, which are truly fantastic, but their expense perpetuates the idea that eating healthy is just too expensive a proposition. And if you're used to spending less time in the kitchen and relying on easy-to-prep foods, you're going to get lured into purchasing a multitude of these products. Pre-made food costs more, and if the budget doesn't allow, you must trade the convenience of these foods for spending more time in the kitchen making your own.
In-season fruits, vegetables, nuts, nut butter, spices, gluten free grains and dry legumes in bulk are all relatively inexpensive -- you just have to take more time and creativity to turn them into something you like.
Some other practical ways of saving money on food:
1. Buy local and in-season: Strawberries from local farms in summer are going to cost you about 1/3 of what you'll pay in winter, while butternut squash in winter will save you about 1/3 of what you'll pay in summer.
2. Buy in bulk: Rice and other grains, legumes, flours, nuts, dried fruit, spices and more are considerably cheaper when you buy them without packaging out of bulk bins.
3. Try to rely less on packaged foods. The more work you put into your food, the less it costs.
4. Eat less meat and more plant based proteins such as legumes, nuts and nut butters.
5. Buy canned salmon, low-mercury tuna and sardines for excellent protein, high omega 3's and less cost.
6. Costco. They are doing a great job of stocking healthier foods such as rice, beans, organic fruits and vegetables, quinoa, almond butter, salmon burgers, Larabars and more. You just have to look past the 50# box of Captain Crunch...
7. Trader Joe's if you live near one. Best prices on nuts, dried fruits, nut butters, rice pastas, beans, rice, hummus. They have a decent organic fruit and vegetable section, as well for about the same as you'll pay for conventional at the supermarket.
8. Beans, beans and more beans. Learning how to season beans well takes practice, but it's so worth it. You can save a fortune by making these little guys a significant protein source in your diet.
For most, the idea of accepting higher food prices, giving up some of life's pleasures, eating less pre-made foods and adjusting schedules and interests to spend more time in the kitchen is a major paradigm shift that seems unthinkable at the outset. But once you get the practice under your belt, you'll find the additional cost is a small price to pay for feeling better.
Back to past blogs
May 22, 2011
Can food sensitivities make seasonal allergies worse?
My seasonal allergies have always been brutal, often
involving massive amounts of Claritin that never seemed to fully handle the
continuous sneezing, headaches and resulting exhaustion that took me down for
hours at a time. I couldn’t wait for June, maybe July when
pollen counts would drop and my life could resume some sense of normalcy (whatever that means).
This last year, I made some changes to my perpetually evolving
diet which I wrote about here on the website.
I engaged in the Elimination Diet for a couple of months to see if
anything I was eating was contributing to the cyclic migraines that had worsened
over the last year. There were a few
foods that seemed to increase headaches, but I found that gluten was the
strongest of the bunch. So, I have spent
the last 3 months keeping gluten out of my diet as much as possible which has
resulted in a 99% improvement in my migraines.
What I didn’t expect from this change was how keeping such a
reactive food out of my diet would affect my seasonal allergies. Apart from the occasional sneeze, my symptoms
have been almost non-existent this year.
As those around me sniffle and hack, I keep waiting for the attack to
come, but … nothing.
This actually makes a lot of sense. Unless you have a severe allergy, our immune
systems often need a certain amount of allergen or stimulant available to
create a reaction, and once you reach your own personal threshold, you
react. Rarely is there just one
stimulant at play, though – it is the combination of stimulants (food, stress, environment,
hormones, weather, temperature) that adds up to a reaction. Removing one or more of these stimulants may
keep you from reaching your threshold – and this may significantly reduce your
I was able to identify that gluten was a significant
inflammatory trigger, and was likely pushing me over my threshold when allergy
season came around. By taking out the
gluten, I am able to tolerate my seasonal allergies without getting pushed to
my reactive threshold. The same can be
said for any symptoms, whether it’s migraine, joint pain, hives, what have
Focus your practice on finding out what stimulants might be triggering your symptoms. Engage in an elimination diet to get a sense
of whether foods are triggers, and to what extent. Notice if
you feel worse when the stress in your life increases. Do your symptoms worsen when you’re ovulating
or menstruating? When it’s extremely
hot, cold, rainy or when seasons change?
The more you know, the more you have the power to avoid reaching your
own threshold, and the better you may feel.
Back to previous blogs
March 6, 2011
Your gut: Talking about IBS...
If I had to estimate, I'd say about 80% of my patients have some form of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (which is basically just a fancy term for "Your gut hurts, and we don't know why.") It's their least favorite topic to discuss and the one that I most relish. Not because I particularly enjoy discussing one's bowel habits, but because it's the area that can most likely be improved, if not completely resolved, by dietary changes. ( Of those 80%, I'd say about 95% have IBS that can be cured either with dietary changes or GI supplementation. Then there's that other 5% -- I'll get to them later...). If you have already been evaluated by a Gastro doc and have been labeled with IBS, read on...
There are the usual dietary suspects that I look for first: gluten and dairy. Gluten is incredibly difficult for the body to break down and is one of the most reactive foods in our collective diets today (thus, the multi-billion dollar gluten free market). And dairy is a bomb waiting to go off -- you can have lactose intolerance, which means you lack the enzyme lactase which is necessary to break down the lactose sugar molecule down so you can absorb it. And you may also have a sensitivity to the dairy proteins, casein and whey which may stimulate immune and mucous production making digestion and absorption of nutrients difficult.
There are a number of other foods that commonly affect the gut: Sugars (this goes for fruits, too) can be difficult for the body to absorb; though, I have to say, this type of sensitivity isn't as common as the rest. Then comes soy, corn, eggs, yeast, nightshade plants, caffeine, artificial sweeteners and alcohol, all of which can stimulate immune response in the gut. In the case of alcohol and caffeine, they may stimulate the nervous system to go a little haywire and start telling the gut to work a little faster than it normally would. There is also a classifications of foods called salicylates which are high in many fruits, vegetables and nuts.
I have also seen a fair amount of carbohydrate intolerance which essentially means the gut is having a difficult time breaking down carbohydrates into their individual pieces so they can be absorbed. There's a book called "The Specific Carbohydrate Diet" by Elaine Gottschall which discusses this theory in depth. I only use it as a last ditch effort when nothing else is working because of how difficult it is for the client to follow it. Still, when it works, it works amazingly well.
In most cases of IBS, a food sensitivity (or three) is almost always at play. But underlying this sensitivity is usually a digestive tract in great need of repair, which is where supplementation usually comes into the picture. With severe and long-term IBS I recommend going full guns with high doses of probiotics, which is good bacteria that lines the digestive tract and protects the immunity of the GI. There's a fantastic product called VSL3 (www.vsl3.com) which is available through most pharmacies, and it blows all other probiotics out of the water for the job it can get done. It provides up to 450 billion live organisms per day - that's nearly 10 - 20 times the amount provided in other probiotics. It's strong and it works amazingly well. I have even seen some cases of IBS clear with VSL3 and no dietary changes at all. It just depends on what's going on in your gut. I may also recommend digestive enzymes which help to break your food down so that it's more easily absorbed. L-Glutamine can be helpful for healing "leaky gut" should you find you have a lot of food sensitivities.
So, we've basically narrowed down all reactive foods to most of the foods in our daily diets. Where to begin? You can always start with probiotics first just to see what kind of mileage you get out of them If probiotics work, you can stop there and move on to digestive enzymes for added support.
Conquering food sensitivities may seem overwhelming, but it's not impossible. The full Elimination Diet usually does the trick, but if it feels too large or overwhelming, I would most definitely start with gluten (wheat, rye, barley) then dairy. If neither of those is the issue, then the full Elimination is the next step. This diet does leave in fruits, grains and salicylate-rich foods, so if the full ED isn't working, I make recommendations in the Guidebook around how to further remove these foods, as well.
If, after all of your hard and diligent work, you are still experiencing symptoms (this is where the other 5% comes in), there are other places to consider: 1. Stress management. Stress is one of the overriding contributors to IBS. Learning how to express your emotional life differently can significantly affect your digestive function; 2. Nerve damage. Especially if your IBS started with a bacterial infection and was treated aggressively with antibiotics. Talk to your Gastroenterologist about anti-depressants for the gut that may help it to regulate. 3. Medications. There are many that cause diarrhea or constipation -- make sure you have considered this and discuss with your doctor before making any changes. 4. Yeast overgrowth. Consult with a Naturopath who can test you for yeast issues that may benefit from a no-sugar diet.
The gut needs time to completely heal. If you have found your symptoms have improved but aren't perfect, give it time, avoid reactive foods, supplement, deep breathe before meals, chew your food well, and make efforts to change your emotional expression. It will change, but you must do the very diligent work that it takes to get you there.
Back to previous blogs
February 21, 2011
Getting Inspiration in the Kitchen from the Internet
I just joined a CSA (Community Support Agriculture) and now have fresh, organic fruits and vegetables delivered to my door every other week. It's a tremendous thing -- I am provided really wonderful produce, which forces me to bring it to our table with much more regularity. I eat my share of fruits and vegetables, but usually not in such abundance. But when a box full of bok choy, chard, cilantro, spinach, broccolini, mushrooms, apples, oranges and much, much more lands in your fridge at once, you start trying to get creative fast before it all turns to mush.
Which led me to the internet today -- what to do with 2 pounds of bok choy? I have always loved this light, crisp green, but have never tried cooking it, though I know it's a hard vegetable to mess up. I went looking for the perfect ED-friendly recipe online but kept coming up short with recipes that contained soy, sugar and cornstarch. Sauteeing it in ginger and garlic seemed a little "eh." So...
I decided that finding a recipe that would work was going to take much longer than I had patience for, so substitutions would have to do. I found this recipe that looked interesting. I substituted the sugar with 1 Tbsp brown rice syrup (agave would probably work well, too), the soy sauce with Coconut Aminos, the cornstarch with arrowroot, the red wine vinegar with rice wine vinegar, and nixed the chili pepper paste and added a little garlic for bite. I'm telling you, it tasted straight out of my favorite Chinese restaurant -- it was truly fantastic. I paired it with Coconut Jasmine Rice (formerly known as "Jungle Rice") but this time added cashews and peas for protein to make it a complete meal. The two dishes combined provided me with one of my favorite meals in a very long time.
When you come upon a recipe that has an ingredient (or six) that doesn't work for the ED, don't pass it up -- try to work with it, and fuse the idea of it with your own dietary preferences. It will provide you a sense of creativity and open up hundreds of more possibilities in the kitchen. Use apple cider or rice wine vinegar for citrus ingredients; add extra garlic, spicy mustard or horseradish in place of spice; always use the Coconut Aminos for Worcestershire, tamari or soy sauce; brown rice pasta for whole wheat; So Delicious non-dairy, unsweetened coconut milk for dairy; Pacific Mushroom broth for chicken or vegetable broths (or just add water and more salt than the recipe calls for).
What you create may not taste exactly as the author intended it, but using existing recipes as inspiration and instruction will help guide you to an amazing meal you can call your own.
Some of my favorite recipe sites:
Check out my Chinese Bok Choy and the new and improved higher protein Coconut Jasmine Rice with Cashews and Peas in the Recipes page.
Back to EDRD Blogs of yore
February 14, 2011
After the Elimination Diet...
The ED has officially ended and it's met both with a sense of relief and sadness. Relief because I don't have to question every last morsel that enters my mouth, scrutinizing its contents to be sure I was staying true to the diet. And even though this is a great exercise in staying conscious with my food, it also takes a terrific amount of energy. Going out to eat with my family isn't such an exhausting negotiation of trying to find a place that will have something on the menu that mom can eat. And I'm just simply ready to get back to a semblance of a normal life -- and my family is happy to have me back, as well.
And sadness because there is something I miss about being a part of something that I was creating for my own good, and knowing that I was capable of doing it. It gave me a wonderful sense of confidence that extended into other areas of my life. I loved being in the kitchen and getting creative with a limited number of ingredients, and producing these amazing dishes that made me feel healthy and energetic. I loved trying new foods that I haven't given much time to in the past (kasha - blech; adzuki beans - better; Coconut Aminos - I want to put it on everything). I loved writing about the experience and sharing it with my clients and this website. And I especially liked the idea of questioning habits and patterns from the past, and consciously creating new ones that serve me better today.
There is a lot I will miss, not to mention the gluten, soy and oats that were found to be my migraine culprits. Will I never enjoy them again? I will -- that's the beautiful part about sensitivities. I know that I can tolerate small amounts just fine, but if I overdo it, I'll pay the consequence. I can live gluten, soy and oat free in my daily life, but when the evening at the local French restaurant comes up, like it did this weekend, I know that I will be fine enjoying some of the best bread I've ever had without issue.
I also know there is much I will take away from this experience and that will forever change my daily practice: I will continue to seek out new and interesting gluten, soy and oat free foods (and other ED recipes to give to my clients). I will take the 2 hours on Sunday afternoons to make meals to get me through lunches and dinners during the week so that I can provide good food for myself even when I don't have the time or energy. I know I will be able to empathize more strongly with my clients, and continue to create more resources that will help them to be as successful in this practice as possible.
So, I'm not really leaving the ED -- I'm just taking what I've learned and extending it into a new way of eating so that I can continue to experience all the positive things I have gained from it. This makes the sadness of ending it seem a little less so.
back to previous blogs
February 7, 2011
What is your model of self care?
As I've forged through the last 5 weeks on the ED, I've been struck by the amount of time and care I have given to my food, and how giving this consideration and respect to it has become a reflection of how I care for myself. As I made my breakfast this morning, I began to think about the things that I do to care for myself. What are the rituals that I perform that provide the most benefit to me in my life? What are the consequences of not practicing these rituals? And, perhaps most importantly, what keeps me from practicing the very things I know to be so beneficial?
For example, I've been spending a lot of time in the kitchen, both on Sundays to prepare meals for the next few days, and later in the evenings of weeknights when I prep my next day's lunch and breakfast. The limitations of the ED really force you to take this kind of care and time for your food. And I started thinking about all the amazing things this practice has provided to me:
* Eating nourishing food gives me a sense of calm, which helps me to navigate and deal with the seemingly unending stressors that life just keeps tossing my way.
* Prepping my meals the night or weekend before ensures that I'm going to eat well at a time that I know I don't have the energy to do it (mornings and weeknights). Knowing that I have a warm soup or nourishing salad to feed me at lunch or greet me when I get home for dinner, makes me feel like I'm being taken care of. And that's a fantastic feeling.
* The time and care I give to my food gives energy, good health, and pleasure in return.
And what are the consequences of not practicing these rituals? If I'm not prepping my meals in advance, I know that I'm up against three pretty major players: stress, energy and time. All three are going to keep me from preparing a healthy meal when I need it the most, and will likely lead to me to a cereal box, the freezer, and yet another pasta night. Eating this way only satisfies a physiological hunger, but does nothing to give my body what it really needs. It doesn't nourish, it doesn't calm, it doesn't provide beyond a temporary instant gratification.
And what keeps me from this practice? Name it: My lack of awareness around how crucial this practice is to my well-being. My lack of prioritizing, or drawing boundaries around the things that get in the way of providing for myself. The energy/stress/time paradigm that we all seem to be working within. Knowing that I can easily pick up a quick meal without having to put the time into making it myself. Habit.
There are a hundred reasons why we don't practice the things we know to be good for us. But I think we too often forget just how critical these practices are to our ability to deal with the difficulties in our lives. Without these benefits, we are left only with the consequences of not practicing them. When I care for myself with good food, I am calm, energetic, feel taken care of, experience pleasure -- all necessary qualities that help me balance stress and keep my head above water. When I don't eat well, I've not only lost the benefits of the practice but am further burdened by a body that doesn't feel so hot, making the stress in my life that much less manageable. (As a nutrition counselor, I often see emotional eaters turn to food in these cases.) Whatever barriers are in the way, I know that I must address them so that I can continue to give myself the balance that I require.
Ask yourself what your model of self care is. Do you exercise, taking breaks during the day for yourself, resolving conflict when it occurs, create art, nourish yourself with healthy foods, write, spend time in the outdoors, read books that excite you? What do these rituals provide to you, how do you feel when you don't do them, and what are the barriers that keep them from happening? Once you get your head around what your barriers are, you can start taking action to deal with them. Only then can you allow your own practice of self care to shine and provide.
back to previous blogs
January 26, 2011
Day 27 of the Elimination Diet. I hate kasha and other observations.
These past weeks on the ED have been an incredible experience, but I still have a ways to go. What I've taken home so far:
1. Kasha schmasha. Whoever thought to toast buckwheat and call it
food was starving when they came up with the idea. I never throw away
food, but this one went into the compost within minutes.
2. Prioritizing your food when you're sick or going through a
particularly stressful time is so very, very hard, but can also provide calm in the
3. So Delicious Coconut Milk is creamy goodness. I want to buy stock in it.
4. I could eat hot brown rice with So Delicious coconut milk, maple
syrup, nutmeg, raisins, chopped toasted almonds, and coconut for every
meal. Unfortunately, my family doesn't feel the same way.
5. I now have empathy for my clients who fear reintroducing foods back
into the diet. It's setting yourself up for a potentially bad day.
Like migraine bad.
6. I can live without gluten and soy because I feel so much better
without them in my life. Kinda like leaving a bad relationship.
7. Food is a fantastic thing and is to be honored and respected. The
moment we take it for granted, we lose a relationship that can provide
us a great sense of power, grounding and calm.
8. Straying from the diet for a meal doesn't blow the whole
experiment. There are moments in life where meeting others' needs is
more important than meeting your own. When this happens, you get OK
with it and get back to work at the next meal.
My sugar cravings are emotionally driven. When things are hard or
uncomfortable, I want it. When I'm at peace, it's the furthest thing
from my mind. Its absence keeps me honest with my emotions, and I like where this is taking me, as hard as it is.
10. Clearing a food is met with relief and joy. Failing a food is met with loss, a bit of grief and, finally, acceptance.
11. I hate kasha. Who thinks this tastes good? Who?
Still to go: Corn, oats, meats, eggs and more. This has been emotionally and physically challenging, but my relationship with food continues to evolve and strengthen. And, as difficult as it has been at times, it has also been a great deal of fun. Tomorrow: Corn.
back to previous blogs
January 14, 2011
Day 14 of the Elimination Diet today, and I was craving sugar tonight. Big time. I couldn't get my mind off it, and while I was relatively confident I wasn't going to break the diet for it, I couldn't shake the craving. I wasn't sure what to do with it until I remembered that I'm a nutrition counselor who not only specializes in anti-inflammatory nutrition but who also specializes in emotional eating. Seems obvious enough, but sometimes I forget the advice I give to others can benefit my own life, as well. I'm dense like that sometimes.
Laurel Mellin has done wonderful work on rewiring the circuitry of the brain (www.thepathway.org) in an effort to bring the unconscious to the conscious -- to recognize how we emotionally respond to stress, and to become more conscious around how we deal with it. I use a lot of her teachings in my own practice when working with those who consider themselves emotional eaters. Three of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself when you're emotionally reaching for food is 1. Am I hungry? If you are then eat, and if not, then move on to the next question. 2. What am I feeling at this moment? This may seem a simple question but if you're not used to identifying or truly experiencing and resolving uncomfortable emotions, it can be hard to figure out at first. And 3. What do I need? In other words, what needs to happen for me to deal with and experience this emotion so that I can either let it go or simply experience it to the fullest?
These are simple, yet extremely powerful questions to ask yourself. So I thought I'd give it a try tonight to see if I could identify what this sugar thing was about. I removed myself to a quiet room, took a few deep breaths, and closed my eyes.
I was clearly not hungry -- I had eaten enough for dinner, so this was off the table. Moving to the feeling: I thought this would be a harder thing to identify until I burst into tears at just the mere idea of the question. The stress of our family emergency this last week has been high and I've been juggling family and work to keep things going. What I hadn't realized was the toll it had taken on me. And when I asked myself what I needed, well, it appeared I simply needed to cry, to experience and release the sadness that was underneath the coping and shielding that kept me going.
Once I finished this amazing release, I felt incredible and the desire for sugar completely and immediately vanished without another thought given to it. My desire to make myself feel better with sugar was completely unconscious and I probably would have had a little something sweet without giving it a thought had I not been on the ED and asked why. I continue to be amazed at the pervasive power food can have over one's emotions. And even more amazed at how cut off we can be from knowing how we feel at any given moment, using any number of outside distractions to make us forget.
Back to the top of the page
January 11, 2011
The Elimination Diet is hard work.
I'm in the middle of my second week of the Elimination Diet and I'm entirely surprised by what I've experienced so far. I did the ED many years ago back in grad school because I figured if I was going to ask someone to completely change their way of eating for two months, I'd better be prepared to do it myself. I recall it as being a life-changing experiment, mainly because my main source of foodstuff at the time was soy-based fake meat and some form of carbohydrate, and learning about unique and different foods that had never before crossed my lips was a new and exciting thing. I also found that those soy-based meats gave me terrible, emergency-room inducing gas. So, that was a good thing, too.
But this time has been very different. My first week was entirely unexpected. I had this idea that I would experience a fantastic high, unbridled energy, the clarity that only a detox can bring. And what I got was intense hunger, low energy, almost a sadness or loss, I couldn't sit still, I felt anxious, agitated, my digestion didn't feel quite right. I was on the verge of calling the whole experiment off on more than one occasion.
I couldn't get my head around why I was so miserable. But because I believe there is something to be learned from any reaction, good or bad, I sat as still as possible and observed. What I haven't mentioned is that in the middle of the first week, we had a family emergency happen that was very emotional for everyone involved. What I realized is that my discomfort wasn't just related to the event, but to my lack of stimulating food during the crisis. My food, the food that comforts, the food that stimulates and warms the soul, wasn't there to balance out the chaos. Without this stimulation, I was left with the darkness of the moment which was a very uncomfortable thing, a distraction-free emotional experience that hit me deeply, leaving me to feel every moment without the temporary respite that certain foods provide.
This experience has given me a better understanding of why emotional eating usually disappears on the ED. The
foods on the ED are wonderful, but they don't light the brain up in the
same way sugar, wheat, cheese and other foods do. They are nourishing,
but in a way that simply provides sustenance and well-being without any exciting emotional payoff. With stimulation gone, we are left only to experience the feelings of the moment which can be an uncomfortable and fearful thing.
Now that I'm in the second week, I'm feeling much better. Once
I got over the need to be stimulated by my food and became more
comfortable with the discomfort, I started to relax, and appreciate the
calm that this food actually provides. The clarity that I had hoped for is coming -- it's just going to take more work than I had planned to get there
back to previous blogs
December 26, 2010
It's another year. I think it's time to detox.
The first time I did a detox, I engaged in a 7-day juice fast that involved large amounts of fresh squeezed carrot, celery and apple juices. It was painful and fantastic all at once. I remember the pain of hunger and the disheartening letdown my "meal" of juice would elicit. What I also remember, though, is the incredible energy I had, the uncaffeinated feeling of bounding out of bed in the morning, the clarity. I vowed that I would do everything possible to feel this way for the rest of my life -- that is, until the caffeine sneaked its way back in, then the sugar, the refined stuff, and so on. It didn't take long to lose the high of the detox and start mucking up the waters again. Starvation can do that to you. Any intention of maintaining that kind of high is smashed to bits by my simple yet overpowering instinct to survive. And so, I went back to eating what I ate before which, of course, bore no resemblance to the healthy juices that kept me alive those seven days.
I've changed my detoxification methods since then because I wanted to find a way that would provide as much of that feeling of clarity and energy without feeling I had to live in a constant state of deprivation and pain. My first experience with the Elimination Diet gave me a sense of how to practice a type of detoxification that simply involved eating real food while clearing out the riff-raff (caffeine, wheat, meat, sugar, chocolate, alcohol, aka "the delicious stuff"). What I found is that not only did I feel energized and clear, the lack of starvation made it much easier to bring many of the principles of the Elimination Diet back into my real life without abandoning the practice altogether.
It's been a long holiday season filled with unbelievably good food (see The Three Month Feeding Frenzy for reference), and while I've enjoyed every bite, I think it's time to reset and calm the nervous system a bit. I'm starting the Elimination Diet on January 1st, not as a way to lose weight or punish myself for overindulging, but because I like the idea of entering the new year with a different energy and new perspective, letting go of excess baggage that is best left to the year before. Detoxing with the Elimination Diet for three weeks is less dramatic than depriving yourself of food for a week, but I think it's more effective in the long-term because there is less desire to flee back to "real food" in the face of starvation. Calming your Self and nourishing the body with real food feels an empowering way to set fresh intention for a new year. Care to join?
Return to past blogs
November 29, 2010
The Three Month Feeding Frenzy
It starts around the first of October. The little mini Snickers bars start adorning the desks of all around you. It's impossible not to eat one or two of the little morsels, especially in the beginning when wave of nostalgia flows over you from Halloweens past. By the 31st, you're fully hooked on sugar and by November 1st, everyone's dumping their kids' candy in enormous bowls in the office kitchen, or you're snarfing down your own kid's candy so they don't learn the evils of sugar. It can take weeks before it's all gone. Just in time for Thanksgiving in all its whipped-topping-in-a-can splendor. Once you're finished with the leftovers, the holiday parties ensue. (I work in a clinic where 2 pound boxes of See's candies and Almond Roca arrive on the hour from regular patients. It's nauseating and delicious all at once.) The parties, the holiday cookies from well meaning friends and neighbors, Christmas-eve dinner, Christmas morning brunch, Christmas dinner, leftovers -- all culminating in an alcohol-soaked binge for New Year's Eve, spitting you into the New Year without a pair of pants that fit, and a desperate resolution to stop the madness and pick up where you left off in September.
It's a three month party that ushers you into the darkest and coldest of months and keeps your mind attuned to bright lights and sweet pleasures, forgetting how much you miss your long days and warm nights. It's nostalgic, warm, dark, and food is the perfect accompaniment to both hibernation and celebration.
Clients always ask me how to handle the holidays, how to avoid the now-average 8# weight gain every year, and I'm always conflicted in my answer. I don't want to be a killjoy and tell them not to participate in the fun of the season but, at the same time, this may be a good time to start learning how to create well-needed boundaries around what is certain to come.
Last year, my holiday boundary was to shun the workplace candy completely until my last workday before Christmas, at which point I could enjoy whatever I wished. If I ate the candy everyday, I reasoned, it would become an obligation, something that I simply had to partake in because it was there. If I took one, well then the door was open for more. I decided the holidays were just that -- the holiday itself, not every day in between. Creating this boundary worked and it seemed to increase my awareness around other holiday food encounters -- not that I didn't engage (because I did), but that I was selective in what I did eat and was conscious not to over-do it.
Creating boundaries is work. Hard work. It conjures feelings of being locked into a room, away from pleasure, away from the party, away from what you (and those around you) want. But it's as though we have collectively lost the ability to say no, that consuming everything in whatever amount we choose has become a right, a motto, an expectation. There is something so very powerless in this. The payoff is temporary and the letdown is deep and lasting. Creating a conscious boundary -- whether it be with food, family, relationships -- returns a sense of power and strength, and reminds you that you do have a choice to accept or refuse no matter what comes your way.
The countdown to Christmas has begun, and I haven't yet decided what my boundary is going to be, if any, this year. But I better decide soon. It's only November and the chocolate mint stars arrived today...
Return to past blogs
November 5, 2010
Why is it so hard to be good?
In my years as a Dietitian in private practice, I have counseled thousands of clients about which foods to prioritize in the diet and which ones to keep on the back burner. You can imagine, there aren't a lot of surprises here: Cut the sugar and artificial stuff, reduce the meats and dairy, increase the sustainable sea and plant foods, drink water, find out if you have food sensitivities. These recommendations don't come as a surprise to most, but the chasm between what one knows and what one does is wide. A typical response I hear often is, "I know what to do. I just don't do it."
If we all practiced what we knew, it would be a very different world, indeed. So, what's the hangup? Here's what I've been able to gather so far:
1. Habit: "I have always had a bowl of ice cream after dinner."
2. Foods we were given as a kid: Kraft Mac and Cheese. And it still tastes good...
3. Ease: Popping a Hot Pocket in the microwave is easier and quicker than washing, spinning and cutting a head of romaine.
4. Availability of foods that are in the "reduce" category: A Starbucks cherry scone is always just around the corner. A kale and quinoa salad is not.
5. Perceived cost: A Big Mac costs less than a bunch of broccoli. And sadly, it usually does.
6. Time and energy: When you're burnt at the end of the day, chopping vegetables seems like the hardest thing to do. And in this state, it seems to take forever.
7. Ingrained rebellion: "You're not going to tell me what to eat, Ms. Dietitian (or Doctor or Mom or fill in the blank)!"
8. Dieting or restrictive mindset: Breakfast always goes well, but is probably too light for what you really need. Same with lunch. Then comes 3:00 p.m.: One little Hershey's Kiss pick-me-up can start the sugar and overeating ball rolling. The rest of the day is out of control and the dieting starts "tomorrow." It feels so good, yet feels so bad...
9. Genuine dislike of foods that are good for us: Some people really do hate vegetables.
10. We eat what those around us eat: We just do.
11. Eating junk makes you want more junk. It just does.
12. For the pure love and pleasure of foods that maybe aren't the best for us.
And sometimes it just feels good to be bad.
Bridging that gap between what you know and what you do takes effort and awareness. First, you have to decide what changes you want to make (if you have no idea, consulting with a Dietitian can help you here). Then, pay attention and observe what barriers you have in place that keep those changes from happening.
Then the real work begins. Because those barriers are there for a very good reason. And confronting those reasons can be a very uncomfortable thing.
Sometimes it's just a matter of planning meals in advance so that you don't let time, energy and ease dictate what you eat. Sometimes it takes challenging core beliefs that you may not have even known you had, and realizing that the choices you make now don't have to be the same ones you have made in the past. Or it may involve opening a hole that food has been filling, and experiencing uncomfortable emotions that need to be felt and released.
Whatever it is, know that closing the gap between what you know and what you practice is possible, it just takes a change in priority, focus and energy to make it happen. Decide what you want to change and observe without judgment. Seek counsel from a Dietitian if you need support. Be willing and prepared to feel a little pain in the process. It took a long time to get where you are today, and it's going to take a little bit of time and patience to get someplace new. Just trust there are better things on the other side.
Return to top of EDRD Blog
October 22, 2010
Taking on Sugar
Sugar and me, we go way back. As a kid, I can remember stashing jellied
orange slices and lemon drops under my pillow for a late night treat,
and my after-school trips to Cannam's Market usually involved a Baby Ruth, a Big
Hunk and a Marathon bar for the walk home. As an adult, I could easily
down a half a pound of Jelly Bellies a day, and knew each flavor by the
its color and speckle. And I'm still finding crumpled up candy
wrappers in old purses and coat pockets that haven't seen a dry cleaner
in years. I never thought I'd kick the habit until I started learning
a thing or two about nutrition, and why my uncontrollable sugar
cravings were just that -- completely out of my control.
Sugar is a powerful drug in the body. It stimulates areas of the brain that provide a sense of pleasure, numbness to uncomfortable feelings, a temporary departure. It's a little like heroin, only socially acceptable. It tells us to feel good, to want more and takes any sense of self control away from us.
How did I kick it? I'm not sure I ever did and I doubt I ever will.
The Halloween candy at the front desk still beckons to me and the perpetual plate of cookies in our work kitchen is my
nemesis. But there are things I have been able to change about my diet
that makes their call less strong and, at times, makes it completely
quiet to my more-than-attentive ears.
My top 10 ways to take on sugar:
1. Above all else, the more sugar you eat, the more you want,
especially the refined stuff. Quit it completely for a at least two weeks so you can
rid yourself of its effects. The longer it stays out, the less your
body craves it.
2. To help you kick it and to keep it out, eat every couple of hours with a combination of
protein and carbohydrate at every turn (think nuts and dried fruit).
Feeding yourself regularly will keep blood sugars steady and cravings manageable.
3. Use fresh and dried fruits to give you a sweet kick. It's not what you want, but it will take the edge off, especially when you are first getting off of it.
4. Keep sweet alternatives around that keep you from the candy bowl. There are a few things I keep on hand: Dried and fresh
fruit (again, not what I want, but they do the trick when I get the itch);
green smoothies (they're naturally sweet and the nutritious and really cut down
the sweet cravings); Zing Bars (they taste like candy bars, but are low glycemic, high protein and don't
make you want more sugar); drink water with a splash of Santa Cruz Orange
Mango juice; or try coconut water for a sweet afternoon lift in energy.
5. Keep the sweet stuff out of the house. If it's there, you will eat it. Having "willpower" just doesn't cut it in the world of
6. Make sure you have plenty of healthy fats in the diet. A diet too low in fat will increase your cravings. Eat moderate amounts of avocado, olive oils and nuts.
7. Keep yourself hydrated. Dehydration can mask itself as hunger or cravings.
8. Eat lots of fresh vegetables and plant foods (this is where green smoothies can be helpful). Sugar cravings can stem from nutrient deficiencies.
9. Know how many hours of sleep you need to feel rested and make it happen. If you are perpetually tired, you are more likely to reach for sugar to get you through the day.
10. Consider giving up coffee. I know, this one is harder to sell, but I gave up coffee last year after a bout of food poisoning and found my sugar cravings lessened. When I added it back, that old 3:00 sugar craving showed its ugly head again.
OK, one more...
11. Finally, food sensitivities could be driving your desire to eat more sugar. Wheat, dairy, sugar and caffeine are the usual suspects, but any food can be triggers. Doing a detox like the elimination diet can show you whether other foods are fueling your cravings.
Get conscious around what drives your desire to eat sugar and do something about it. Consider it a healthy contribution to your teeth, your heart, your joints, your weight, your emotions and your sense of well-being.
Return to top of EDRD Blog
While staying at one of my dearest friend's house, I complained of low energy, and how I just couldn’t get myself
going that day. In response, my friend disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a
strange looking green concoction that looked not quite appetizing, not quite repellent. I took a sip – it was delicious. As I continued to drink, I felt my energy
returning and within minutes, I felt amazing. This was my introduction to green smoothies
and since that time, I have spent countless hours in the kitchen creating my own
recipes and passing them on to my clients and friends.
Green smoothies may sound
strange to some (OK, they may even sound disgusting -- the cringe is a common face I see from clients when I approach the topic), but the fruits overpower any strong flavor the
greens may impart, and any reservation with the color of the drink will be put
to rest once you taste one. The concentration of nutrients it
provides is unparalleled by any one food or meal – perfect for detoxification
or as an anti-inflammatory elixir. They provide incredible energy, a reduction in sweet cravings, weight loss, and an
overall sense of well being when drunk on a regular basis. I swear my stress levels seemed to sink to more tolerable levels when I started drinking them every day.
The classic three
ingredients for a green smoothie are fruit, greens like collards, kale or spinach and water, but if you
need more calories or protein, you can always try adding soaked nuts, rice
or hemp protein powders, hemp seeds or coconut milk. A standard blender will do, but if you want a
smoother drink, try a higher power motor.
The Vitamix is the shining star of the blender world, but will
set you back about $400. If you just
want a decent, good quality machine, the Oster 8 Speed Blender rates high in
Consumer Reports, has a very strong motor and costs about $40.
When making a green
smoothie, play with textures that fit your own tastes – if the drink is too
thin, add strawberries, banana or avocado; if it’s too thick, add fruit juice
or water; if it’s too sweet, add more greens; if it’s too bitter, add fruit
juice or a couple of dates to sweeten.
Also consider changing up flavors by adding basil, parsley, ginger, mint or cinnamon. Blend on high for about 2-3 minutes for the smoothest texture.
Classic Green Smoothie: This is the basic recipe. Add fruit first, then water, and finish with
the greens. Serves 3.
More recipes to come!
- 2-3 cups fruit (strawberries, watermelon, blueberries,
blackberries, nectarines, etc.), fresh or frozen
- 1 banana (keep it out for a thinner beverage or if
- Enough filtered water to reach the top of the fruit,
about 2 cups
- 2 cups greens (spinach, chard, beet greens,
collards, sorrel, lettuce, etc.)
Back to EDRD Blog for past blogs
October 14, 2010
Is there really such a thing as emotional eating?
I've been thinking about how, when one engages in an elimination diet, one's desire to eat for emotional reasons abruptly disappears. Cravings go away, food seems less important, uncontrollable desires for sugar and comfort through food seem more manageable. It always hits one by surprise, especially when food has been such a friend and companion for so many years.
This has always made me wonder: Is there really such a thing as emotional eating? Or are our emotions being driven by an underlying physiological reaction to the foods that we eat? When foods that stimulate us -- usually sugar, caffeine, alcohol, artificial ingredients, wheat or refined flours, or any food, for that matter, that our body may be reacting to -- are removed from one's life, there is a calm that happens. And in this calm, there is less reaction, less desire for more, less discomfort, less need to make things better with food. Removing the added stress that food creates may allow us to make decisions from a more grounded space, which may help us to make more conscious and less uncontrollable decisions when it comes to what and how we eat.
I have no doubt there is more to this picture, of course: Food provides an amazing pleasure that makes the most uncomfortable emotions seem a little less so. And the habit of using food in this way can be strong, practiced and ingrained deep in our subconscious. Changing the diet doesn't magically change the relationship with food overnight. But wiping the diet clean for a time can provide more emotional balance so that you are able to clearly observe your habits and your relationship with food. And making these kind of observations is crucial if you want to make lifelong changes to that relationship.
Back to EDRD Blog for past blogs