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Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational, and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life. Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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How-Important-Is-Nutrition-to-You

How Important Is Nutrition to You?

Please take a minute to answer the question of how important nutrition is to you: not really, somewhat, or very. If your answer is not really or somewhat, before going all judgy on yourself that you should care more, just set aside judgment for a moment and grab your curiosity cap to try to understand your response. Let’s roll back the clock to childhood and start there. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, a time when three meals a day and drinking milk were de rigueur and food allergies and sensitivities were, as far as I knew, barely heard of. Meals were mostly home cooked and fairly balanced in my house and going out to dinner was pretty much limited to Sunday nights or celebrations. Who even knew what an RD (registered dietitian) was back then? What I learned about nutrition happened decades later.  Consider the following: How much...

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Sugar Addiction

Recently I did some internet research on sugar addiction when the subject cropped up in a workshop. Can a person really be addicted to sugar? If so, does that mean she can never eat it and/or that if she does, she’s bound to go overboard and binge? How do you know if you’re addicted or if you only believe you are? I encourage you all to do your own research on sugar addiction, although the jury appears to be out on the subject. Some evidence indicates that rats seem to become addicted to sugar water based on specific criteria related to increased tolerance, cravings, and withdrawal symptoms, while other studies conclude that the problem is better defined in terms of psychological dependence than physical addiction. Perhaps some day we’ll have a definitive answer and a better understanding of how sugar affects our biochemistry. For now, each of us has to assess...

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Grocery Shopping

Dangers of Ultra-processed Food

If you’re a frequent reader, you know that I rarely blog about nutrition. That’s because my focus is on the how and why, not the what, of eating based on the belief that (almost) all foods can be part of the healthy, “normal” eating.  I try my best to avoid the concept of “good” and “bad” food. Broccoli does not sport a halo above its leafy stalks and no devil’s pitchfork rises out of a scoop of ice cream. One need not be a perfectly nutritional eater; occasional treats of high-sugar/high-fat foods are fine and welcome. Ultra-processed foods, however, are in a category all their own because of the manifold, negative effects they have on our bodies. In “Are Ultra-Processed Foods Making Us Fat: A new study shakes things up” (Nutrition Action Healthletter, July/August 2019, pp 3-6), Kevin Hall, PhD minces no words about the dangers of the likes of “sodas,...

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The Bad and the Ugly about Ultra-processed Foods

  If you eat ultra-processed food (UPF), here’s another excellent reason to give it up. Although my expertise is in the why and how of eating, it’s important to understand how harmful UPFs are for you—especially in a way that might surprise you. According to “It’s Not Just Salt, Sugar Fat: Study Finds Ultra-Processed Foods Drive Weight Gain” (NPR, “The Salt, 5/16/19, accessed 5/17/19) UPFs can cause weight gain, exactly what most of you are fighting against. “Ultra-processed foods include more than just the obvious suspects, like chips, candy, packaged desserts, and ready-to-eat meals. The category also includes foods that some consumers might find surprising, including Honey Nut Cheerios and other breakfast cereals, packaged white bread, jarred sauces, yogurt with added fruit, and frozen sausages and other reconstituted meat products. Popkin says ultra-processed foods usually contain a long list of ingredients, many of them made in labs. So, for example, instead...

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How Our Food is Losing Nutrients

You may think that eating lots of vegetables, fish, and plant-based foods means you’re getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy. That may have been the case decades ago but, according to Irakli Loladze, Ph.D., the quality of our food is decreasing because of the quality of what it is fed or feeds on due to climate change. (“The great nutrient collapse,” Helena Bottemiller Evich, 9/13/2017, Politco, accessed 9/16/17, http://www.politico.com/agenda/story/2017/09/13/food-nutrients-carbon-dioxide-000511) There is a complicated answer to what’s been going on, but I’ll try to keep it simple.   Loladze explains that “Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide (CO2) to grow” and that scientists have known for decades that CO2 levels have been rising in our atmosphere. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising…We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history—[an] injection...

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Food Labeling and Consumption

I don’t know about you, but I have mixed feelings about including nutritional information on menus. People all over the world manage to be “normal”—even healthy—eaters without knowing precisely how many calories, salt, or fat grams food contains, so why can’t Americans? On the other hand, reading nutritional information alongside menu selections might be just what is needed to break through denial and help folks make better choices. At any rate, here are preliminary results of research on the subject. Experts admit that because menu labeling laws are fairly new and not well studied, what is known about their impact on diet is inconclusive. Moreover, study results vary wildly. One study in the January issue of the Journal of Pediatrics focusing on families concluded that “mothers made better choices for their children when provided with calorie numbers, but didn’t make those same decisions for themselves.” A Stanford University study on Starbuck...

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Genes and Your Sweet Tooth

Ever wonder how some people easily pass up sweets while you can’t seem to say no? Part of your response is from the way you were raised and your beliefs about food, eating and weight, but there also may be a physiological component to your problem. Nothing about food is ever simple, is it? An article entitled “Sweet Tooth” from February 2009 on Self.com explains: “Some of us really can’t have just one sugary treat. A gene that tells our brain when we’ve had enough is less sensitive to glucose in certain people, so they may overindulge, a study from the University of Toronto reveals. People with this gene variation are more likely to have a higher body-mass index than those without it, but they aren’t doomed to be overweight. ‘Factors you can control, like the snacks you eat, have a bigger impact on eating habits,’ says study author Ahmed El-Sohemy....

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The Connection Between Food and Mood

In addition to what you eat affecting your brain chemistry, mood, alertness, energy level, and performance, we’re now learning that how much and when you eat also has an impact. You may know this intuitively from the post-Thanksgiving dinner crash you experience, but not think about how food affects you every day of the year. High-fat/high-calorie meals slow down absorption of food needed for energy, hence that logy feeling that hits us mid-afternoon or after a heavy meal when blood is re-directed away from the brain to the stomach to aid digestion. It makes sense that a dearth of blood to the brain would cause fatigue. So if you’re tired a lot, could be that your stomach is getting more blood than your brain is and you might consider whether your food intake, timing, and meal size could be the cause. Our circadian rhythms (changes in physical and mental characteristics over...

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Protein and Burning Fat

As I’ve said a gazillion times, I’m fascinated by research on eating and weight. We’ve come so far scientifically since I had my food struggles decades ago and all we knew about how to fix them was based on the simplistic theory of calories in and energy out. Now we recognize how complex and complicated this subject really is. For example, an article in Science News (1/15/11), entitled “Mice missing protein burn more fat: research suggests molecular way to rev up body’s furnace” by Tina Hesman Saey, reinforces the fact that all bodies are not created equal. Studies at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston led by Yuxiang Sun conclude that “Mice lacking a protein that responds to the hunger-promoting hormone ghrelin burn more energy in their brown fat than other mice.” In terms of caloric expenditure, this means that brown fat is good fat, that is, rather than simply...

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Why Diet Soda Is Unhealthy for You

I’m always surprised when I speak to people who say they eat healthfully but drink diet soda. We’ve known for a long time that diet soda isn’t healthy for us, so it’s surprising that so many folks keeping drinking it. Here are some very good reasons not to. According to “The skinny on diet soda” by Mandy Oaklander (Time Magazine, 3/30/15), what we like about drinking diet soda is the rush it gives us—without the calories. The truth is that while we’re believing that diet soda is helping us slim down, it’s actually fattening us up. When you intake genuine sugar, your brain registers satiation with it and gets “full” on sugar. Says, Dr. Helen Hazuda of the University of Texas Health Science Center, “Your body is used to knowing that a sweet taste means you’re ingesting energy”—that is, calories—“and that if you don’t burn them off, it’s going to convert...

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More on Food and Mood

Do you think of your food as effecting your mood or only that your mood influences your cravings? “Connecting Food and Your Mood: What you eat (and drink) may affect your state of mind” (Tufts University Health and Nutrition Letter, 6/17, vol. 35, No. 4) tells us that both statements have truth to them. Scientists have “found that there may be a relationship between the risk of common mental health issues—including depression and anxiety—and our diet quality. Robin Kanarek, Ph.D., a Tufts psychology professor, says, “The role of diet in mental health may be particularly important for populations who are vulnerable to nutritional shortfalls, such as infants and the elderly, and those consuming a less-than-optimal diet.” Her food recommendations should not surprise you—“nutrient-rich plant foods, such as vegetables, fruits and whole grains, and omega-3-rich foods, such as salmon and flax seed—because they’re associated with a decreased risk of depression and anxiety.” Alternately, “A...

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Unnatural Foods

Recent research once more confirms that dieting as a lifestyle is fruitless (no pun intended!) and that “normal” eating is the way to go. A study in Behavioral Neuroscience reports that low-calorie sweeteners can actually promote weight gain. The study focuses on one sweetener in particular, saccharin, and supports research on how “diet” foods (low/no sugar/fat) may actually be making us fatter. I’m no scientist, but these conclusions make sense to me. These days we’re messing around with everything: the environment, our bodies, our minds. Yet it seems that the more we do, the worse things get. We’ve been polluting our air and water and through artificial food, our appetite. Without going on a rant, this shift away from what’s natural makes me wonder who benefits, especially related to food. Certainly not my clients or the people who read my blogs. Or the folks out there buying into the “chemicals are...

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Microbes and Obesity

Because people with food disorders are so hard on themselves about their eating, it heartens me to read about biological underpinnings of weight issues. The 4/5/08 edition of Science News shares some fascinating insights about intestinal microbes and overweight children. Microbes are small organisms like bacteria that inhabit the gut. A new study from Finland concludes that overweight and normal weight children have different kinds and amounts of intestinal microbes, and that while some of these microbes may actually protect children against developing obesity, others are linked to chronic low-grade inflammation which is associated with it. Normal weight kids in the study had twice the number of one specific bacterium and fewer of another than overweight kids. Moreover, the microbe which was more abundant in the normal weight children is also associated with an effectively functioning immune system. How does this information relate to your struggles with eating, weight and health?...

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Toxins in Food

When you’re overeating, you’re often caught up in rebellion, emotional avoidance, denial, or all-or-nothing thinking, so how often do you consider what food is doing to your body? Never mind how many calories it has—or hasn’t. Calorie-free or not, the point is whether a food is a healthy or unhealthy option because of how its ingredients will affect you in the long run. Focusing on the nasty things that toxins can do to your health is one way to help you make better choices. For example, I was recently at dinner with a friend who was eating chicken salad nestled in a crispy taco shell. Near the end of the meal, she started to break off pieces of the shell, set them aside, but continue to nibble at them. At one point, she covered the entire shell with her napkin, but soon she was back nibbling at them again. Finally, she...

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Stress and Carbs

Just when we think we have our heads on straight about the dangers of carbs, we get thrown a curve ball. Like the September 2008 article in Mind, Mood, & Memory published by Massachusetts General Hospital entitled “A Carbohydrate Cure for Stress.” Carbs a cure for stress? Hmm. That’s sure food for thought! I thought that carbs in response to stress were the devil in disguise. According to the article, “…a healthy carbohydrate snack may be among the most effective stress-busters for individuals who do not suffer from abnormal glucose metabolism, such as diabetes.” Well, duh, we’ve known all along that carbs do the trick. The article explains why: healthy carbohydrates (whole grain snacks, sweet potatoes, etc.) trigger a cascade of biochemical brain changes that increase serotonin. Low stores of serotonin make you anxious, depressed, and irritable and high stores contribute to feeling happy, in control, and at ease. Judith Wurtman,...

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Healthy Eating As Hardship

On occasion when I’m dining with people and happen to be eating something nutritious such as salad, brown rice or a plate of veggies, someone will tut tut about what a terrible hardship it must be to eat healthily all the time. Huh? Generally, I first correct them and tell them that every morsel of food that enters my mouth is by no means super nutritious. Then I (tactfully) ask where they got the erroneous idea that treating your body to wholesome food is some kind of hardship. This is one of those times I recognize right off that someone else’s words are more about them than about me. For people who wish to take care of their bodies, remain relatively disease free, and increase life expectancy, eating for health is, well, hardly a hardship. It’s natural, it’s essential, it’s a given. It’s the way to get from here to there....

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To Carb or Not to Carb

Once more, a session with a client has got me thinking: if you don’t know whether or not you have difficulty metabolizing particular foods such as wheat or sugar, do you try to eat them “normally” or avoid them completely? Obviously, if you’ve been tested and diagnosed with a food allergy, you’ll want to steer clear. Remember, testing is the only way to know for certain that you have a bona fide food allergy (see my blog archive). Craving and having difficulty staying away from a food does not constitute a food allergy or addiction, so please don’t convince yourself that the problem is physical when it could be mental/emotional. That said, it’s difficult to know how to proceed if you react badly to a food. You could give it—sugar, fats, wheat or even most carbohydrates—up completely. However: OA members avoid food for decades, then sometimes try a bite and succumb...

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Sugar Questions Yet Again

A while ago, a client asked me what I thought about whether or not sugar is addictive, and I said I wasn’t sure. Then I read yet another article about sugar which said that it hadn’t been proven addictive. A confusing issue, one which has a direct impact on our thinking, and often our behavior, around sugar-laden foods. I blog on this subject to help you decide how you want to make choices about them. Here’s the verbatim text from the article, “EN Answers Your Most Pressing Questions About Sugar,” from the highly respected journal, Environmental Nutrition (March 2010): “Scientists believe that the preference humans seem to have for sweets is probably a long-cultivated, protective mechanism against poisonous substances, since many poisons taste bitter while many safe, nutritious foods, like fruit, taste sweet. But does that mean humans have a natural tendency to crave sweets? According to a paper published in...

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More on Sugar Addiction

There’s always new information coming out on eating and weight. Here’s recent evidence which indicates that sugar might very well might be addictive. Study Suggests Sugar May Be Addictive, by Amanda Gardner. WEDNESDAY, Dec. 10, 2008 (Health Day News) -- Science is verifying what many overeaters have suspected for a long time: sugar can be addictive. In fact, the sweetener seems to prompt the same chemical changes in the brain seen in people who abuse drugs such as cocaine and heroin. The findings were to be presented Wednesday at the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology's annual meeting, in Nashville.  “Evidence from an animal model suggests that bingeing on sugar can act in the brain in ways similar to drugs of abuse,” lead researcher Bart Hoebel, professor of psychology at Princeton University, said during a December 4 teleconference. "Drinking large amounts of sugar water when hungry can cause behavioral changes and even neurochemical...

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Diet and Your Mood

An article in the January 2010 issue of the Tufts University Health and Nutrition Newsletter (http://www.tuftshealthletter.com/), FOOD AND YOUR MOOD, contains fascinating information about how what we eat affects our emotions. Most likely, those people who have depression or anxiety problems and turn to food, had mood difficulties before their food issues. But, the fact is, we can also depress or elevate our mood, not only with exercise, but with what we choose to eat. For instance, the article states that “foods high in protein tend to make you more alert and carbohydrates can relax you—hence the term “comfort food.” This is important information: carbs do change your mood and that’s why you choose them. You’re not undisciplined or lacking in self-control. You simply want to feel better. No crime in that. Of course, there are more effective and less deleterious ways to feel better, but the point is that being...

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