So no one told you life was gonna be this weigh

I’m having a really stressful week, so this post is going to be fun! You may or may not know that today is the 20th anniversary of the series premiere of the TV show Friends, which is my all time favorite TV series. I think that’s an understatement; I’ve watched the whole series repeatedly more times than is acceptable to admit. I just thought I’d go through and comment on some of the elements and events of Friends related to food, health, weight, etc.

  • Phoebe’s a vegetarian. She only ever brings up moral reasons, i.e. not believing in eating other living creatures, but that is indeed an important consideration that people actively ignore. If people grasped, like Phoebe, that every time you eat an animal, an animal had to die, you’d probably eat animals less, which would be better for your health and the environment. 
  • Monica used to be fat. This is a recurring motif throughout the series, and it makes her the source of a lot of jokes. Though I hate to criticize my dear Friends, this is what we’d call weight bias or weight stigma, and it can be really harmful. I might delve into that more in a future post. What’s great though is that in The One That Could Have Been, Chandler and Monica end up falling in love despite her weight.

  • In The One Where Ross Finds Out, Chandler discovers he’s put on some weight, so Monica anoints herself his personal trainer while she’s unemployed. She works him day in and day out exercising, but no one ever mentions food. Regardless, it’s a great example of how friends can motivate each other!
  • One of my favorite episodes is The One With All The Cheesecakes, where Chandler and Rachel share an entire stolen cheesecake and cannot get over how delicious it is. They end up with another one and eat that one too, even after it falls on the floor. I think I’ve mentioned this before, but my favorite food is cheesecake, and this episode really resonates with me because I can eat healthy like 90% of the time, but hand me a good cheesecake and I might eat the whole thing. Being healthy is not all or nothing–you should treat yourself when a great cheesecake comes along; but make sure your regular fuel is whole, plant-based foods. 
  • Joey is known for being the most indulgent when it comes to food. He never fails to order an enormous amount of food, and in the Thanksgiving episode of the 8th season he eats an entire turkey to make it worth it for Monica to have made one, and to prove to himself that he could. He’s never exactly skinny, but he definitely gets away with eating a lot for his size…damn men with their fast metabolisms…and damn TV for making us think we can eat that much and still be slim! There is this great moment though when Rachel’s sister is visiting and she tries to make Joey feel bad for eating pizza and he shouts “I’m curvy, and I like it!”

Please comment if you have other memories. Look out for this stuff in the media!

Live (Gluten) Free or Die?

Hi readers! I feel like my sophomore year is now in full swing, including getting back into my college eating pattern. And I’ve been finding, as I always do, that I eat less, and feel much better physically and emotionally when I eat mostly whole plant-based foods than when I eat highly processed foods and sweets…just something to think about ;).

This week I wanted to write about gluten. You know gluten- that thing everyone seems to have stopped eating but you don’t really know what it is?

It’s always been on my list of possible blog topics, but now it’s especially relevant to me, because my thirteen-year-old cousin, who for all intents and purposes I consider my younger brother, has just been diagnosed with celiac disease.

For those of you who don’t know, celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder which causes the immune system to attack the intestinal lining upon ingestion of gluten, a protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and malt. Consuming anything containing or derived from wheat can cause a whole range of uncomfortable, painful, and yucky symptoms in celiac patients. Even worse, the damage to the intestine can drastically limit nutrient absorption.

Needless to say, this disease is no fun, and my cousin was very upset by this diagnosis, as was I. Imagine being told you can’t eat multiple things that were a regular part of your diet. You either have to find gluten-free substitutions or eliminate them altogether. The bright side is that if he steers clear of gluten, his intestinal lining should heal and he should have no further symptoms or complications.

Celiac disease is certainly a real thing. Celiac patients will certainly benefit from eliminating gluten. Beyond that, though, the benefits of removing gluten from one’s diet get a bit murkier.

“Gluten sensitivity” is now a term used widely to describe a non-celiac condition which causes some range of negative symptoms, usually gastrointestinal, upon consumption of gluten. According to my limited knowledge, it is true that even the healthiest people don’t fully digest gluten, so the probability of gluten’s causing digestive symptoms being a public health problem is quite logical. The weird thing is that gluten sensitivity is becoming more prevalent, even taking into account that diagnosis has become more accurate. As far as I know, no scientist can explain this trend, so I find myself a bit skeptical. Perhaps some people are incorrectly attributing their symptoms to gluten, because of the negative connotation gluten has recently acquired.

Whether or not gluten sensitivity is really becoming more widespread, it is definitely true that people have incorrectly raised a health halo above gluten-free food products. Gluten-free has become a fad diet not only to avoid negative gastrointestinal symptoms, but to achieve weight loss. Now, before the food industry hopped on the gluten-free trend, I would have said that a gluten free diet probably would help with weight loss, because it would have meant avoiding all foods containing refined flour (white bread, white pasta, white rice, cookies, cakes, crackers, pretzels, pizza, sugary cereals etc), which are very easy to overeat. But now that you can find gluten-free substitutions for all of those things, you are just as likely to overeat all of those things. I do not give credence to the theory that gluten inherently makes you gain weight or that it keeps you from losing weight. As a population we’ve been consuming gluten since way before we had an obesity problem. Most nutrition professionals I know would tell you the same thing: if you are not gluten sensitive and if you do not have celiac disease, there is no scientific foundation for the idea that there are health benefits from eliminating gluten from your diet. Better idea? Eat whole grains instead of refined grains.

That being said, if you are experience some elusive gastrointestinal symptoms, go ahead and try cutting out gluten for a few weeks and see if the symptoms go away. Then try eating some gluten, and if the symptoms come back, you may very well be gluten sensitive.

And even though the world seems to be rampant with gluten-free foods now, people like my cousin still don’t have it so easy. They have to make much more of an effort than the rest of us to find something they can eat in any situation, and especially in situations where the ingredients are unknown or unclear. I send my love and support to my cousin as he begins to navigate the food world anew.

As always, I appreciate your comments. Thanks for reading!

Everyone is selling something

First of all, today’s my 20th birthday, which for me means indulgence! I celebrated with a bunch of my friends last night, and we shared about 20-25 individual desserts. Maybe that lessens my credibility as a nutrition aficionado, but I maintain that it’s all about balance. And I gotta tell you, after all this stuffing my face, I feel pretty gross. I don’t think I’ll be touching sweets for a week. 

Anyway, now for today’s topic. I’ve been wanting to write about one of the reasons why people are so confused about nutrition. Who knows what they’re supposed to eat when every day something different is bad for us (fat, carbs, gluten, etc), and something different is good for us (protein, chia seeds, fish oil, etc), according to the media. 

I firmly believe that everyone should just follow Michael Pollan’s three simple rules at least 80% of the time, and your health will pretty much fall in line: 1. Eat food (as in whole, real, minimally processed). 2. Not too much. 3. Mostly plants.

But you’d think that if it were that simple that the advice wouldn’t be this confusing and conflicted. And there has been years and years of research to back up the benefits of a whole foods, plant strong diet. Here’s the problem: science that everyone already knows is true doesn’t sell. You’ve gotta be showing something new. We hope that academia exists to advance our knowledge of the world and of humanity, and to a great extent that is true, but it is also a business. Researchers want their papers to get published, and media wants to buy the stories that will make headlines. 

It’s kind of terrible that the system works that way, especially when it comes to our health. Of course, it’s true that some people lose weight on a low-carb diet, but it’s also true that some people lose weight on a high carb diet. This focus on individual foods and individual nutrients is getting us nowhere, it’s only making the people selling those foods richer. I have a hard time blaming people for trying to make money though; the pursuit of immediate gratification is human nature, after all. No one is saying “let’s just make up something crazy to attract attention and make money.” For instance, I’ve noticed this in the research lab I’m with which I’m involved. The leaders have honest and good intentions; they want to change people’s eating behavior to improve public health. But if the most logical explanation for some observed behavior is too obvious, they look for something else to explain it in the hopes of being more likely to get noticed and published. Of course, if they can’t find an alternate effect they don’t lie or anything, but I still can’t see how this kind of attitude wouldn’t bias their findings to some degree. 

Let me be clear that I’m NOT saying that every researcher is a money/fame-hungry fraud. Most of them are in fact doing honest, respectable science, but the system is against them and against the public, in my opinion. 

Here’s the bottom line: stop looking for some unique cure and fund research that will actually help us change people’s behavior into doing what we have always known works. And take every article you read reporting on nutrition research with a bowl of salt (not literally, of course, that would be bad nutrition 😉 .) 

Anyway, as always, please let me know your thoughts. Happy birthday to me!

 

 

A Wake Up Call?

Happy Labor Day, everyone. For me that means no classes, which is sweet. Not that I don’t like my classes–I really do! I just really needed the extra day to sleep. You see, this semester my classes start every day at 8 or 9 AM, which is very early for a college student. And I am not the best sleeper to begin with, so I have to make sure I get to bed very early in order to ensure that I am getting any kind of sleep worth having. It hasn’t been so bad this week, but once all my extracurriculars get into full swing, I anticipate feeling exhausted way more often than I did last year, when my classes started at 10 or 11. 

This state of affairs makes drinking coffee very tempting.

It surprises most people that I have gotten this far in life without ever drinking coffee. Oh sure, I’ve tasted it, and I used to love those ridiculously indulgent frappucino thingys. But I’ve refrained from becoming a regular coffee drinker for two main reasons: 

  1. I don’t like black coffee, so I’d have to add milk and sweetener to it to make it enjoyable, which violates my don’t-drink-your-calories rule that works for me in terms of weight maintenance.
  2. I am very wary of using any kind of drug to solve a problem that doesn’t really need one, and caffeine is definitely a drug. I never want to have to rely on any substance to keep me awake, or put me to sleep. I generally don’t take medicine for colds either. 

As for number 1, this could be overruled by using noncaloric sweeteners like stevia and maybe just a bit of almond milk or something. Number 2 I can’t avoid.

Interestingly enough, moderate coffee drinkers (statistically) have a lower risk of cancer. Caffeine has also been shown to improve athletic performance when timed appropriately. There seems to be benefit from that daily cup of joe. But that doesn’t exempt me from getting addicted to it. Or from experiencing unintended side effects. Too much caffeine can definitely be harmful. 

I’ll keep you posted.

Are you pro or anti coffee? Should I give in?