Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

“The Jungle Effect” as Antidote to Fad Diets

February 14, 2014

Many of you have heard me rant about various fad diets. I lament how easily these temporary promises of a better, thinner, healthier version of ourselves take hold in our often anxious and preoccupied minds. I know humans innately crave a mix of new experiences (and foods) as well as the comfort of familiar routines (and foods), so I get why at least some of these fads are appealing. We know at some level we will never look like the celebrity du jour touting this fad as the secret to her success. We understand that no matter how much we long for simple solutions to our problems, it is unlikely the complex layers of our issues will be unraveled simply and with minimal effort.

Yet we can’t help ourselves. The power of our imagination is so great that we enter each new fad wide-eyed with possibility. Maybe this time we will lose weight, gain health and self-confidence, and all of the problems we think are tied to our weight and appearance will magically melt away.

I am reminded of my favorite nickname of a hockey teammate in Seattle – “Dream Crusher.” Though I understand very well the myriad reasons all of us are attracted to different fads at some point or another (this extends beyond fad diets for those who think this post doesn’t apply to you), I am here to crush that dream. There are no quick fixes to solve complex problems related to weight and health.

Lucky for you I am not particularly comfortable with the moniker “Dream Crusher,” as appealing as it is for a defensive partner on the ice in the context of a hockey game. I prefer to inspire hope and to support the process of change that leads my clients toward their goals and whatever it takes for them to live in harmony with their values. So I have put together a class called “The Jungle Effect” to appeal to your sense of adventure while honoring your need for comfort and the familiar.

“The Jungle Effect” is a phrase coined by integrative physician Daphne Miller. Miller observed several patients who experienced health problems when they transitioned away from their traditional way of eating and adopted the ways of our modern, industrialized society. One client in particular spent time in a traditional community in the jungle as a child and when she returned to this place for an extended visit years later, many health issues she developed as an adult resolved.

Intrigued by this idea that returning to a simpler way of eating and living could reclaim health, Miller explores five areas in the world where populations still follow a mainly traditional way of life, including eating habits, and enjoy an unusually low incidence of various chronic diseases and conditions that plague much of the developed world.

There are many aspects of Miller’s approach that appeal to me. First, she uses stories of real people to introduce us to these exotic places and to give us ideas about how we can integrate traditional ways into our modern lives.

Next, there is a lot of nutrition myth-busting that occurs throughout the book, especially related to our annoying tendency to reduce nutrition to specific nutrients as a guide to a “healthy diet.” While she does introduce information about components in foods that have powerful health benefits like the omega-3 fats found in fish, she presents a broader picture of nutritional benefits. Popular ideas such as simply eating “too many carbs” is a general problem vanish as we learn that the people of Copper Canyon, Mexico eat a traditional diet that is composed of roughly 80% carbohydrates and enjoy one of the lowest rates of diabetes in the world.

Perhaps the best part of the book for me though, is that Miller provides a picture of each culture that extends beyond what they eat. There is no doubt the “what” is important, yet through Miller’s presentation of cultures as diverse as Crete and Iceland we are encouraged to look beyond what is eaten and contemplate how food is produced, prepared and shared, along with many other aspects of daily life in these communities that benefit their health.

“The Jungle Effect,” and more specifically the idea of pursuing more traditional ways of eating, is the closest thing I think we will find to a “simple solution.” By definition a culture that continues its way of life, including eating habits, over centuries is going to have a more simple approach than our post-industrial modern society.  The challenge then becomes reclaiming simplicity in a complex society, no small feat as many of you know.

Next week’s class through our local branch of Central Wyoming College is based on some of the important concepts from Miller’s book, complete with foods that represent these special places – Copper Canyon, Mexico, the islands of Crete and Okinawa, Cameroon, West Africa, and Iceland. We will explore some of the key concepts common to this diverse collection of cultures that contribute to good health and longevity.  Best of all, we will embrace the excitement that comes with trying something new while uncovering the comfortable, familiar aspects of this simple approach that require no special talents beyond our own inner wisdom.

What Do You Mean “It’s Not About the Food?”

January 29, 2014

Next week I begin a new series of Beyond Broccoli classes called Food & You: Exploring Beyond the “What.” I am excited about this unique option for nutrition education and support for the many people in our community who struggle with food, weight, and body image, using a behavioral nutrition approach that recognizes in many cases – “it’s not about the food.”

Not long after I started Beyond Broccoli back in 2001 I remember thinking that so much of my formal training and education in nutrition focused on what to eat (or not eat) for a variety of outcomes, and yet the most important work I did with individual clients came down to something we spent relatively little time studying: behavior change.

I remember learning about the “Stages of Change” model that describes the process most people go through to make changes. I was fascinated by this process, though I had no idea at the time this would be some of the most important information to my practice with individual clients. It didn’t take long for me to realize that struggles with food, weight and body image add layers of complexity to changing habits. If I want my clients to be successful in making sustainable changes, together we need to explore well beyond the “what” of their eating habits. So I have devoted much time and energy over the past dozen years to learning more about this whole process.

I suspect some find this idea of a nutritionist not focusing on the “what” confusing. Aren’t nutritionists supposed to be the experts on what to eat (or not eat)? Isn’t that why we consult with them?

As a Registered Dietitian it is important that I know about Medical Nutrition Therapy, or how nutrients can prevent or manage disease and illness. Here in Jackson it also helps me to know about sports nutrition to help my clients optimize food as fuel. Educating clients about the links between food and mood is important for both long-term health and how they feel on a daily basis, often a much more compelling reason to make changes. So yes, what we eat, and don’t eat, is definitely important and a major focus of my ongoing work (and continuing education requirements).

I am also passionate about the need for nutrition education to go beyond just spewing information. I enjoy helping clients acquire tools and build skills to actually apply this information in the context of their individual life situations – or more simply, the “how” related to eating habits.

However, I now know that actually making changes often goes way beyond needing to change, wanting to change, and knowing what to do. I can put together the best meal plan ever for someone, based on all the current research and my clinical experience, but if she isn’t engaged in the process of making the plan and it doesn’t fit into her lifestyle, isn’t compatible with her life goals and values, or doesn’t take into account where she is in the readiness for change process, this “ideal plan” is likely to fail. This leads me to the real crux of changing habits – the “why.”

As I see it, my area of expertise is food and nutrition while my clients and patients are the experts on themselves, even if they are not conscious of this fact. They know why they want to change, or think they want to change, and more importantly what they are willing to do. Sometimes it takes a bit of effort to uncover the layers of “why” and sometimes for clients who struggle with food, weight and body image (which is many of my clients) this process works better with the with additional guidance and support from a skilled therapist using a team approach.

This idea of enlisting additional support for the often challenging process of changing habits is why a group situation can be really helpful. The “Food & You” classes are a way to apply some of what I do with individual clients in a group setting. I offer nutrition education and support using this behavioral nutrition approach rather than dictating “eat this” or “don’t eat that.” Together we explore the myriad factors that influence what we eat, as well as how, when, where, and why. Each class includes a different relaxation or mindfulness technique to get things started, creative and interactive class activities to spur discussion, and a host of ideas, tools and a chance to practice building skills that can help participants move forward in their journey toward a better relationship with food.

I Resolve to Wait Until Spring for New Year’s Resolutions!

December 27, 2013

“We spend January 1st walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.”
–Ellen Goodman

A quick search on New Year’s Resolutions reveals roughly half of Americans bother to make them annually, some do it once in a while, and less than half of those resolutions are kept past the sixth month mark. Clearly even people who don’t make yearly resolutions at least think about them, and many write about them. So what is it that compels all the hoopla every year at this time?

Starting the New Year with some fresh habits that better support our life goals or our health is reasonable on the surface. But I suppose many years of living in places where January is cold, dark, snowy or wet, and not a time when I feel particularly bursting with excess energy has jaded my view of this practice. I also balk at the idea of forcing a change at this arbitrary point in the year, especially when the more natural time for making changes for me is springtime.

I think winter is a great time to contemplate change and perhaps to make sure I get back to any changes I made last year that may have reverted to old ways during the holidays amidst stress and all kinds of distractions. Habits I already worked to change but just weren’t quite my go-to during the busy holiday season are much easier to tackle in January than a completely new thing. For me, the long, dark evenings (and early mornings) are perfect for introspection and planning. As it turns out, planning is also pretty important for sustainable changes.

For me Spring is a natural season for changes, full of renewal and rebirth in the natural world, snow and ice melt here in the valley, buds appear on the trees, baby Bison wander the northern meadows. More hours of daylight and warmer temperatures lighten my mood and I feel more energized. By springtime I have also given thought to meaningful changes and perhaps even taken a few preliminary steps to get the ball rolling.

You may prefer summer or autumn to make changes – maybe you need lots of sunshine or impending winter to nudge you toward change. And sometimes we don’t get to choose when to change. A medical diagnosis or life event may motivate or necessitate change with no luxury of waiting until the time is just right.

As the New Year approaches if you do decide to make a change, here are some key basics to set yourself up for success – and to me that means a change that is sustainable.

  •  Understand your motivation to change. Is the change something you want to do or what someone else wants you to do (a spouse, doctor, friend, etc.). Are you clear about the benefits involved and will the change be a reward by itself? If not you may want to set up rewards along the path to change to keep you going.
  •  Consider all possible barriers to change. Know what you are up against then you can plan accordingly. We are all part of different groups – families, friends, co-workers, church, community, etc. and any changes in our everyday habits can be supported or sabotaged by those around us.
  •  Make a plan and be specific about how you will move forward. Vague statements like “eat more vegetables” are difficult to plan for, implement and measure – all ways we determine our success or failure. Planning will help you assess any skills, tools, knowledge, and support that will help you be successful.
  •  Seek or at least allow support from others for your change. The idea of being a solo badass is alluring to many of us. “Just Do It.” We subconsciously or outwardly buy into the myth that asking for any kind of help means we are weak. The reality is that we all need help sometimes and asking for it is hard. Really hard sometimes. People who care about you want to support you, so let them and increase the chance of successful change.

Beyond Broccoli Holiday Nutrition Tips:

December 10, 2013

Tired of the same old holiday nutrition tips that promote a focus on calories, fat grams, weight gain, and other negative consequences of dietary indiscretion, here are some ideas that fit more with the Beyond Broccoli nutrition philosophy and approach.

  1. Be kind to yourself. This does not replace the giving to others we emphasize during the holiday season – compassion for others is linked to self-compassion. You cannot give what you don’t have and you take the best care of what you love. You do the best you can and that is enough.
  2. Check in with why you are eating. The holiday season presents endless opportunities to graze mindlessly. Sometimes the simple question “what do I really need/want right now?” can stop or at least make you aware of eating for non-hunger reasons (emotions, environment, peer pressure).
  3. Eat slowly and intentionally. Identify pleasing flavors and textures in the food you eat and give your brain the 20 minutes it needs to identify fullness. It helps to eat sitting down with minimal distractions (not an easy task for many of us!).
  4. Notice how your body feels after you eat. This primitive instinct once let us know which foods (or amounts of food) caused digestive discomfort so we could avoid (or eat less of) the food the next time. Understanding which foods nourish our bodies best can empower us to make better choices.
  5. Eat regularly throughout the day. When we go too long without eating we set ourselves up to overeat. This is basic biology – part of our hard-wired survival instincts, now mismatched with our abundant food supply. If you are going to a holiday dinner or party in the evening you can make healthier food choices during the day, but skipping meals and arriving at your special occasion ravenous is not a good idea.
  6.  Stay hydrated. Our need for fluid increases with many environmental extremes including hot, cold, dry and high altitude. Many of us are conscious about drinking more water when it’s hot but forget we need more when it’s cold and/or dry too. Soups and hot tea are great ways to increase fluid on cold days.
  7. Strive to include joyful movement in your busy holiday schedule. Physical activity can take many forms – find ways to move that you enjoy and you are more likely to keep this as part of your holiday self-care regimen. Forcing yourself to squeeze in a gym session can create more stress than it relieves. Dance at holiday parties, acknowledge that holiday shopping and cleaning are opportunities to be active and “count” as physical activity.
  8. Savor food you perceive as special treats. Choose your special treat foods, knowing that in our modern world most foods are available any time of year so identify the truly special foods for you. Notice that when you give yourself permission to eat and savor these foods you may “need” less of them to feel satisfied.
  9. Shared meals provide benefits beyond physical nourishment. Food connects us as humans – we all must eat to live. There is research that supports many benefits of family meals. Taking time to share meals during the holiday season can help us feel grounded, connected to each other, and in charge of our lives vs. stressed out about how out-of-control this season can get.
  10. Remember to breathe. Deep breathing has many benefits, especially related to stress resilience. Stress is an inevitable part of life and our ability to work through stressful moments or events is important for many reasons, including the ability to not use food as an antidote. Just 3 deep “belly breaths” can change the blood flow in your brain from your “fight or flight” response to your more “rational” thinking.

Never Enough

December 6, 2013

Last week kicked off the holiday season with our celebration of Thanks. I love the simplicity of Thanksgiving – gather with family, friends, or neighbors to celebrate what we are grateful for and share good food. However, the irony of this day of thanks followed by the biggest shopping day on the American calendar is not lost on me, nor is the fact that we spend the rest of the holiday season focused on what we don’t have or what others don’t have (the latter to guide our giving). It seems that despite our gratitude for what we have, somehow there is never enough of something.

I am reminded of Brene Brown’s gem of a book The Gifts of Imperfection in which she writes about cultivating a gratitude practice to counter our feelings of scarcity. She points out ways that we buy into the myth of scarcity, often subconsciously. In our society, despite abundant resources relative to other parts of the world or other times in human history, many of us focus on the ways we don’t have enough, can’t get enough, or just are not enough.

We don’t get enough sleep, exercise, recognition for our hard work, or vegetables (couldn’t resist). We don’t have enough time, power, love, or money. We aren’t attractive, thin, fit, smart, or rich enough. These everyday thoughts and feelings of lacking something (or lots of things) keep us searching, both consciously and unconsciously to fill a void, real and imagined.

The reality is, many of these things may be true, at least on the surface. We may not have enough money to pay all of our bills on time or to buy the perfect gift for a loved one, and it’s no secret that lots of Americans are sleep-deprived. But the continued focus on what we lack in every aspect of our lives is not helpful, even if it is true.

Balancing thoughts of what we lack with thoughts of what we have, and more importantly what we are grateful for in ourselves and in others, may help us fill this void. No, positive thoughts don’t directly pay our bills and this isn’t some hippie notion like “love will conquer all” (though love is a great start). In fact ignoring discomfort leads to a host of issues beyond the scope of this blog post. But unless we take a closer look at what we actually have, it is difficult to accurately assess what we really need.

So how does all of this relate to nutrition? Well, it turns out that one of the ways many of us try to “fill” this inner void is by eating (or not eating – food restriction is another way to numb, distract or ignore emotional pain and discomfort).

Now Brene Brown and others who write about perceived scarcity and the benefits of cultivating a gratitude practice don’t frame this practice specifically as a way to address emotional eating (compulsive overeating, binge eating, or eating when feeling any number of emotions and not physically hungry). But I wonder what could happen if we try to focus daily on what we are grateful for, even in some small way. I understand the challenge of starting something new during the insanely busy holiday season but I don’t think this needs to be super time-consuming or complicated (see below for ideas).

I also realize this is an emotionally difficult time of year for many of us who have experienced losses. Though it has been nearly 20 years since my Dad died, his love of all things Christmas still makes me sad at random times throughout this season. It is clear to me though, focusing on the loss and sadness isn’t helpful anymore. However, focusing on how grateful I am for my memories of Dad, even if they make me feel sad, is intriguing to me. Will this somehow help mindless munching I do while not conscious that I am feel an emptiness? I don’t know but I think it’s worth a try.

It does occur to me however, that it may be better to not immediately try to counter feelings of sadness, emptiness, or other emotional discomfort with thoughts about gratitude since the idea is not to invalidate our feelings. I think it may be better to set aside a time to practice gratitude, and to allow thoughts of gratitude to naturally surface at other times but perhaps pay slightly more attention to these thoughts. Say them out loud or share them with someone close to you.

Perhaps if we all try to notice when we are falling into thoughts and feelings of scarcity, and acknowledge what we are grateful for more consistently and consciously, we may not feel a need to fill ourselves with food when what we need or want has nothing to do with food.

So let’s try an informal cultural experiment. If you struggle with any variety of emotional eating, try to somehow incorporate a gratitude practice for even a few minutes each day and see what happens. If you want to, you can come back to this post and let us know how the experiment went for you or you can email me privately (mary@beyondbroccoli.com).

Here are some ideas from people who practice gratitude:

  • Start a gratitude journal – each morning or evening write down at least one thing you are grateful for. Doesn’t need to be fancy, a small memo pad works just fine.
  • Create a gratitude jar in which you write thoughts related to gratitude that come up throughout your day on little pieces of paper and put the pieces of paper in the jar.
  • Begin shared meals with each person at the table sharing something they are grateful for.
  • Use prayer or meditation to reflect on what makes you feel gratitude.

Meanwhile, I am grateful for all of you who read my ramblings. I hope the holiday season is off to a good start for all of you and that you know – you are enough in all of the ways that matter.

Here is a lovely 6 minute video with a Gratitude theme by cinematographer Louie Schwartzberg http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nj2ofrX7jAk

Eating Beyond “Superfoods”

November 22, 2013

“A fruit is a vegetable with looks and money. Plus, if you let fruit rot, it turns into wine, something Brussels sprouts never do.”     – P. J. O’Rourke

Recently as I perused the produce department of my local grocery store, a man asked me if I knew anything about juicing – he pointed to a bunch of fresh beets and chunk of fresh ginger root in his cart. He wondered if the bunch of fresh  greens in his hand from a bin marked simply “greens” was okay for juice, or if he should use kale. Just then a produce employee arrived on the scene and informed us the mystery greens were mustard greens. So I explained to the man that all of the dark leafy greens were very nutritious and the mustard greens have a spicier flavor so the choice of greens to juice is more a matter of taste preference. The produce employee interrupted us to encourage the man toward kale because – “it’s a Superfood.”

Irritated on several levels, (and I am not proud of my next move) I pulled the “I’m a dietitian” card with the hope the annoying employee would go away, which he kind of did. But now the man holding the greens perked up and asked if I knew another dietitian here in town, and when I replied that I did know her, the man beamed as he pointed to his cart and said “she’d be proud of me wouldn’t she?” I agreed, and wished him luck with his juicing adventure. As I walked away, he tucked a bunch of fresh kale next to the bundle of beets and headed toward the cash registers, not realizing mustard greens are also “Superfoods” they just don’t have a publicist yet.

Sigh. Mustard greens are cruciferous vegetables in the Brassicaceae family – along with kale, broccoli, cabbage, collard greens, brussel sprouts, Kholrabi (my husband calls this the “alien vegetable”), bok choy, and cauliflower.

This produce department incident is actually brimming with blog material but right now my focus is: “Superfoods.“ I know this isn’t a new concept. We live in a culture that LOVES superheroes, and celebrities, so it really isn’t a surprise we apply this concept to foods. In general there’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to expand their culinary horizons to include whichever food currently has the best PR campaign or celebrity endorsement. Generally these foods are rich in beneficial plant compounds or some mix of nutrients we don’t get enough of, but somehow I find this trendy obsession irritating. I googled “celebrity kale” and came up with an Us Weekly headline “Stars Who Love Kale” followed by a long list of articles, blogs and websites where apparently celebrities gush about this leafy Brassica. Sigh again.

I  guess I should start with the fact that I have nothing against kale. In fact, I really enjoy kale – starting several years ago when I was a work-share for a season at the Cosmic Apple Gardens, a local CSA over in Victor, Idaho. Prior to that summer, kale was simply a popular garnish used in many of the restaurants and banquets I’d worked in my former food and beverage career. (Current kale enthusiasts would cringe at the thought of the millions of pounds of this vegetable superhero tossed in the garbage of restaurant kitchens after serving its aesthetic purpose.)

I was also thrilled to discover this member of the cruciferous family, a group best known for cancer-fighting powers, grows beautifully in the harsh soil and abbreviated growing season here in northern Wyoming. Even I, brown thumb who generally does best with plants like cactus that thrive on neglect, can grow kale!

But here’s the thing, if we focus on a narrow array of “Superfoods,” we not only miss out on the variety of tastes and textures that make eating pleasurable, we burn out on whatever the latest thing is. I mean how many times a week can you eat kale before you are over it?

Not to mention that I can buy broccoli, cabbage and brussel sprouts for half the cost of a bunch of fresh kale (especially if I go organic).  And, better still, incorporating more variety allows me to make a delicious cabbage salad with toasted pumpkin seeds to go with Mexican main dishes, broccoli (or even more fun – broccoli rabe) with pasta, a mustard greens and goat cheese omelet, and by the time I get to the kale and white bean soup I’ve been in cruciferous heaven for days! Admittedly I stumble a bit with cauliflower and brussel sprouts – not my personal faves. Though I have found ways to make these two palatable, it takes a bit of extra effort (and a lot of garlic – or a grill) so I choose them less often.

I guess my point is – it is difficult to find a vegetable or fruit that isn’t a “Superfood.” Nutrition research shows again and again that eating more fruits and veggies of all kinds (non-starchy anyway) offers a whole host of benefits from lowering our risk of heart disease and many cancers, to helping us achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Just because Gweneth Paltrow and Jennifer Aniston aren’t raving about broccoli (and let’s not forget George Bush Sr.’s anti-broccoli tirade) doesn’t mean we need to forgo the (broccoli) trees for the (kale) leaves! And what if broccoli actually had a PR campaign? Check it out http://www.nytimes.com/2013/11/03/magazine/broccolis-extreme-makeover.html?ref=health&_r=2&

Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us

November 15, 2013

I am no stranger to the genre of Food Industry Horror Stories, both in book and film forms. Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation was my first plunge into the seamy underside of our industrialized food system and its myriad cultural implications. Sadly many others have expanded on Schlosser’s work, including the latest contribution from investigative journalist Michael Moss called Salt, Sugar, Fat – How the Food Giants Hooked Us.

Moss shares what he learned from food industry researchers and executives themselves about how foods are specifically designed to entice people to eat past the point of normal fullness; calculated “bliss points” are used for added sugars, just the right texture and amount of salt for a “flavor burst” to maximize the rush to the brain’s pleasure centers upon hitting the tongue, and fats that add both flavor and a quality called “mouthfeel” – a powerful combination that does not seem to trigger messages to stop eating.

For those of us who encourage our clients to work towards normal or “intuitive eating” rather than restrained eating, Moss’ reminder about the many foods engineered to derail this internal system is both frustrating and important. People who struggle with compulsive overeating, binge eating, or restricted eating that stems from fear they will not be able to stop eating once they begin, at some point need to know that their behaviors are not entirely emotionally based or a sign they are somehow bereft of willpower. This is exactly what food manufacturers want all of us to do – eat what they produce, in excessive amounts, and often. These so-called Food Giants also spend billions of dollars to market highly processed, ultra-palatable foods, and to make sure they are available nearly everywhere we go.

My hope is that the information in Moss’ book will help us be more aware when we eat processed foods, knowing they are deliberately hard to resist overeating. If this deeper understanding about how processed foods are made and marketed so we will eat more helps us let go of the guilt that often comes with eating these foods, particularly if we eat more than we planned to, then I am all for this type of consumer education.

I am concerned however, that yet another of these dire warnings about our food system will reinforce rigid all-or-nothing thinking about what we eat (or don’t eat) based on fear. It is one thing to strive for more whole or minimally processed foods that support good health and another to be so fearful of processed foods that when our options are limited and that is the only food available, we either don’t eat at all, or we are overly anxious while eating (not good for digestion or absorption of nutrients not to mention the increased release of damaging stress hormones).

I guess I’m a bit of an idealist in that I prefer to inspire change rather than jam it down people’s throats with a heavy dose of fear. But I have to admit, I like the idea that when we eat more whole foods and prepare more of our meals at home rather than outsourcing this important work to big food companies (restaurants, ready-prepared or frozen meals in grocery stores, etc.) we are effectively rebelling against a modern food system in dire need of repair.

“Good Food,” “Bad Food,” Wait – Why Am I Eating?

November 8, 2013

The idea that food is either “good” or “bad” is one I have struggled with for years. I don’t mean that I can’t decide which foods support good health and which do not, though dietary trends at any given time try to complicate this picture. What I struggle with is the moralistic labeling of foods, and ultimately how we view ourselves when we eat these foods. If we eat “healthy” we feel virtuous and if we eat “junk food” we feel guilty. The reality is that our overall eating habits are what matter most, including the why, what, when, where, how, and how much we eat. To boil all that down to “I ate French Fries so I’m bad” or “I ate a salad so I’m good” just isn’t helpful for people who struggle with health or weight issues, and it’s not an accurate picture of health for anyone.

So, for years I supported not labeling foods as simply “good” or “bad,” until I learned about how the food industry co-opted the “no bad foods” mantra as a way to peddle more highly processed (and profitable) foods with little (or no) nutritional value. While I do believe there is room in a healthy overall diet for some less-nutritious options, and I also believe foods are not inherently “good” or “evil” – food is just food, hawking the idea that there is no such thing as a bad food from a nutritional perspective is ludicrous. Furthermore, billions of dollars are spent to market these less nutritious options that are usually cheaper and more widely available than more nutritious foods, and in many cases these foods are engineered to override our internal hunger/fullness regulators. Suddenly the “all foods fit” model is more difficult to embrace.

Now, however, I believe the bigger problem with the oversimplification of foods as “good or bad” or stating “there are no bad foods” is that we accept these reductionist ideas without much thought. In fact we have become so focused on what we eat (or don’t eat) that we give little attention to all of the other aspects of eating mentioned above (why, when, etc.). As it turns out, some of these other factors have a major impact on both what and how much, we eat.

We humans eat for a variety of reasons and always have. Those of us in the developed world have more food available than ever before, so merely having enough food is not the issue it was for our ancestors. Even so, we have this idea that food “should” only be for nourishment. The reality is that even primitive cultures that did not have a consistently adequate food supply used food for fuel or sustenance, sometimes medicine, as well as social reasons such as celebrations.

To limit food to only fuel or medicine (“good food”) is not realistic for most people. While some may choose this path to the table, most of us want food to be more versatile. So what if we first ask ourselves: why am I eating this food? Or why do I want that food? We could then have the honest, open conversation with ourselves about our overall eating habits. Sometimes we may answer: I’m hungry and this food will fill me up or I don’t feel well and this food will nourish me. Other times we may say: I like the taste of this food or I want to be part of this celebration with food.

With this ‘why we eat’ approach we can take the judgment out of eating so we are not simply “good” or “bad” because we ate or chose not to eat a particular food. We can learn more about why we choose the foods we do. If we find ourselves making many of our food choices for non-hunger reasons – we are bored, frustrated, happy, sad, or lonely and food is a way to distract, soothe, comfort, numb, or reward ourselves, then we can address these other issues. If what we really need is something other than food, no amount of food will satisfy us. If we are eating because the food is in eyesight or we just saw an ad for a food we like, then we can think about ways to limit those visual cues or at least acknowledge we are influenced by them.

The “why am I eating?” approach can also help us re-connect with when we are hungry and when we have had enough. As we learn more about what we really need, we don’t have to rely on others to tell us what to eat because we will know what makes us feel good – physically and mentally. Instead of asking ourselves “is this food good or bad” we can ask “is this food what I really need or want right now?”

Beyond Broccoli is Back in Wyoming!

October 9, 2013

Back in Jackson, Wyoming, and my dream job – Beyond Broccoli Nutrition Counseling and Education. There is so much to share with you from my four plus years in the Seattle area. Luckily I don’t need to squeeze it all into one blog post so I’ll begin by sharing some of the highlights.

First, as many of you know, eating more whole and minimally processed foods to improve our health is part of my nutrition philosophy and approach. The endless stream of dietary fads pushes me more firmly towards simplifying what we eat, taking back control over preparing more of our food at home, learning to make nourishing foods taste delicious, finding ways to eat well amidst our often insanely busy schedules, learning to wade through the marketing hype that awaits us on nearly every grocery store shelf, and finally, creating sustainable daily habits that support our health and well-being. So, teaching at Bastyr University the past four years was an incredible experience.

I was thrilled to be part of a nutrition department that shares my holistic views related to the importance of whole foods and an integrative approach to helping people improve their health. Bastyr began as a school for naturopathic physicians and expanded to include herbal science, acupuncture and oriental medicine, midwifery, and many options that combine nutrition with exercise and sports science, culinary arts, and clinical healthy psychology. So my students had a variety of interests and most were eager to change the status quo in the fields of nutrition and health care.

Over the past four years I encouraged my students in a variety of classes to rise up to the challenge of changing our broken or too often inadequate food and healthcare systems, and to expand the increasingly narrow view of nutrition and health that underlie these systems. In my cultural foods classes students explored the important role that culture plays in determining what, when, why, how, where, and how much we eat. My Food & Society class delved even deeper into the subject of what shapes and determines our eating habits, with forays into the mismatch of human biology and our current food environment; food psychology that can interfere with our best intentions to eat intuitively and mindfully; food politics that influence many aspects of our food system including nutrition recommendations and education; and the many elements of our industrialized, globalized food system that makes the idea of sweeping changes daunting.

In all of my classes I found opportunities to challenge my students to think beyond simply telling people what to do, whether they are working with individual patients or clients to change lifestyle behaviors, or trying to reach a class, audience, or readership about changes that need to happen within our food system. Change is difficult and on all levels change requires a mix of collaboration and motivation – or in my ideal scenario, inspiration!

This brings me to another core belief: eating is one of the basic human needs that connects us all, and I believe it should be enjoyable, especially for those of us fortunate enough to have an adequate, consistent supply of food. Sadly, too many people currently make food choices based on fear, or beat themselves up for not making changes they “should” make. We are bombarded with messages suggesting there is some perfect way to eat to insure optimal health, and worse, that there is one path to health (and it’s lined with kale!).

My work over the past two years at an intensive outpatient clinic for eating disorders was a stark reminder of what can happen when we approach nutrition narrowly defining health in terms of weight, rigidly adhering to generally prescribed rules of eating, and accept our modern culture’s preoccupation with outward appearance as paramount to success in life. The lessons I taught my students about change applied in the clinical setting as well. My goal was to engage my patients and to collaborate with them, and support them through the long, difficult process of trading their eating disorder for genuine and sustainable self-care. Of course being part of an amazing multi-disciplinary team of medical, nutrition, and mental health professionals all working with our patients toward common goals, was incredibly helpful for our patients and satisfying for me.

So I return to Beyond Broccoli more determined than ever to help my clients and patients find what will help them reach their nutrition and health-related goals, and to support them in the pro

cess of making changes in ways that are individualized, effective, realistic, and of course sustainable for the long-term. I continue to get fired up about using creative ideas and experiential learning techniques when possible, like cooking, grocery shopping, and whatever else my clients need in terms of skills and ideas. I still believe amidst the hard work of changing nutrition and other habits we can have some fun. I look forward to sharing more of what I have learned with all of you, here in Wyoming and beyond, and to hearing from you!

So happy to be back in Wyoming!

So happy to be back in Wyoming!

Make Healthy Foods Taste AMAZING!

April 8, 2011

I saw this headline today “ADA Survey Shows More Families Eating at Home” and clicked through to read more. According to this survey of roughly 1,200 pairs of parents and children:

  • At-home family meals increased from 52 percent in 2003 to 73 percent in 2010.
  • Most families eat out less often, with an average of 57.2 families eating out less than once a week.
  • Aside from hunger, most children said taste was the main reason they ate, and said it would be easier to eat more healthfully if the food tasted better.

While I am encouraged by the first two points that contradict much of the trend data I have seen in recent years with respect to meals eaten away from home, the third point was most interesting to me.

This quarter I decided to audit the quintessential Bastyrian nutrition course “Whole Foods Production” taught by renowned author of Feeding the Whole Family Cynthia Lair. I have taught my own versions of whole foods cooking classes and incorporated whole foods cooking demonstrations into classes, community talks and events for several years but I have never taken a formal cooking class. I know from my experience both cooking and serving at different vegetarian restaurants prior to pursuing my nutrition career, that healthful food can taste amazingly good and often much more interesting than the standard American fare. I also know both from personal and professional experience, many people do not know how to make healthy foods in general and vegetables in particular, taste great.

What excites me most about the Whole Foods Production class is that the hundreds of students who take this class each year will go forward to spread the knowledge and skills (often with enthusiasm) related to making healthy foods taste great. When I go to a restaurant where the salad consists of iceberg lettuce topped with a few pale, mealy tomato slices, maybe a bland cucumber slice, and a few croutons sprinkled on top I think about how I, a longtime vegophile, would not eat vegetables the way I do if this was my regular option!

So here’s a question for all of you….what makes healthy foods taste GREAT to you? Do you already know how to make these foods taste good? Let’s get a conversation going to drive the trend towards eating better not because it will make us skinny or live longer (though these are certainly noble goals) but because we will enjoy eating that way!


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 375 other followers