Thursday, January 28, 2010

Weighing In

My office isn’t large. On one wall are two chairs for clients with a window in between them. My chair and a small table for my computer sit opposite. On one of the two remaining walls hangs my favorite painting and against the other rests my healthometer “doctors”scale. I’m a nutritionist and having a scaleis pretty much a prerequisite but I can sense the stress creates, the metal elephant in the room. I remember when I was first counseling, I had an office in one of the Manhattan gyms. They had a scale, much like my healthometer, in the locker rooms. On a daily basis members would come to the front desk complaining the scale was wrong. It may have been slightly off but it wasn’t broken. Finally, a sign was posted above the scale simply stating “it’s not the scale.” Harsh but true.

I weigh most of my clients backward, with them facing away from the scale’s numbers. I do this because clients are fully dressed (though some slightly disrobe) and come at various times of day. I tell them if they’re up or down and approximately how much. I do this to avoid the number game and yet even without a number of pounds the scale can affect our behavior. There was a Cathy cartoon that comes to mind. In this cartoon Cathy gets on a scale and proclaims “I didn’t lose weight I may as well eat more.” In the next frame she gets on the scale again and says “ooh I lost weight, now I can really eat more.” Many clients, though fully dressed, take every last piece of jewelry off. One client insisted I deduct from her weight because she was in blue jeans. I told her it doesn’t matter that much. She weighed her jeans when she got home and called me “they are 1 pound heavier than my pants.”

While this all seems silly, the scale seems to be an important tool for weight loss and weight maintenance. The National Weight Control Registry , which tracks the habits of people who have successfully lost and maintained 30 pounds or more, shows that 75% of their maintainers weigh themselves at least once a week. I have a nutrition colleague who has also lost a good amount of weight who has been known to travel with her scale. She finds it keeps her in check to weigh herself daily. Others feel the scale makes them crazy and instead judge by how their clothes fit. My worry with this is that for clothes to feel different we’re talking close to 5 pounds lost or gained. As for me, I weigh myself post-poop and pre-dressing when I remember. Hey, if Oprah can talk about poop on a vegan diet I can talk about it with the scale. And in case you’re wondering (I know you are) poop tends to weigh between 6 and 8 ounces. And no I didn’t weigh any poop to find that out.

How often do you weigh yourself? Can you remember what you weighed at various times in your life? Any amusing scale stories? Please weigh in.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Heidi's Habit

Perhaps you saw the January 25th cover of People magazine? C’mon you know you read People. If you do not have a subscription, as I do, chances are you saw the cover at the supermarket or the drug store. Anyway, you don’t have to come clean I’ll fill you in. The cover story featured Heidi Montag, a 23 year old actress, who had 10 plastic surgery procedures in one day. I don’t know if this is a cover-worthy story but I did hear a fair amount of chatter over it.

We can all roll our eyes at an already beautiful girl having 10 surgical procedures. My question is, how many other women in their 20s would do the same thing given unlimited funds? As I read the laundry list of operations, I felt fearful for this young woman. I could never dream of doing something like this because I would worry about my nose ending up near my ear, looking like the cat woman or….dying. So funds and fear are barriers for most of us but are we immune from appearance tweaking? I color my hair monthly, go to a really mean Russian eyebrow lady (because she’s the best), will soon be like one of those hairless cats thanks to laser beams and spend the same amount of money it would take to fly to Florida on seasonal facials. So I devote time and money and energy to my appearance and chances are most of you do too.

So where is the line between acceptable and addictive? I was thinking of this when I received a TV clip in which my friend Michelle Yagoda was an expert for a segment on Heidi Montag. Dr. Michelle Yagoda is NYC Facial Plastic Surgeon and Co-Creator of BeautyScoop. For the record, I met Michelle through our second grade sons. I asked her what the red flags were in this situation. She said that “not knowing Heidi, I can only speculate that she has body dyspmorphic disorder (BDD). It is a type of chronic mental illness when you can't stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance - a flaw that is either minor or imagined. Typically, patients with BDD have multiple surgeries and revisions and are ultimately never satisfied with any of the changes.”

BDD is not something to minimize but there is some overlap with run of the mill insecurity. Maybe the difference between a Heidi and the rest of us has to do with fixation. While I get my fair share of “tune-ups”, I do not think about them incessantly. Or perhaps it has to do with expectations. My goal is not to look like Giselle but I am not 23. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to look like Giselle (I mean c’mon) but that I’m old enough to know it’s not going to happen.

Monday, January 25, 2010

31st Grade Reading Journal: Nutrition At Your Fingertips

In case you’re new to this blog, a little explanation. My 7 year old son keeps a reading journal for school. He is supposed to read 20 minutes a night and keep a log of what he read. I was a little jealous of this assignment and decided I would keep my own reading journal and here it is. I am excited about the book for this week. Clients often ask me for a suggestion for a general book on nutrition. I am sure they’re not happy when I answer that there isn’t really one I like. I have books on sports nutrition, cookbooks I adore, sections on emotional eating but short of a nutrition textbook nothing general. Well I finally found a book that fits the bill and one that should be on everyone’s bookshelf: Nutrition At Your Fingertips by Elisa Zied MS, RD, CDN.

Elisa and I were introduced by a mutual friend. Shortly before I left for the ADA conference in Chicago this year, I received an email from my friend Cheryl saying “Elisa is going to the conference too, you have to meet up!” Had I received this email from anyone other than my fun, upbeat friend Cheryl I would have probably ignored it. Fortunately, I didn’t ignore it and Elisa and I met in the new products expo at the conference. Since then we’ve had lunch and I saw Elisa while she was visiting Cheryl in Vermont. I have to admit though, I run into Elisa most on Twitter. Elisa is probably the nutrition worlds Twitter champ. What I enjoy most about Elisa’s tweets is that she is quick to spot a gimmick, tell us all about it and replace the overblown advice with her sound nutritional knowledge.

I had a few questions for Elisa about her latest project:

Lauren: Who is this book geared toward? I see it as a staple on any bookshelf but who did you have in mind?

: When I wrote this book I had young adults, parents, older people, and anyone concerned about health/wellness/nutrition in mind. Lately, trainers, doctors, nurses and other RDs have told me what a great, easy to read reference book this is.

Lauren: Yes, I’ll admit I purchased (yes purchased on Amazon) the book to check it out for clients and have already used it researching for articles and client sessions. I will vouch for it being easy to use and locate information. Was that your intention?

Elisa: I wrote it as a guide for anyone who doesn't have hours on end to read about nutrition but instead wants a quick go-to reference they can spend a few minutes thumbing through to find clear, and to-the point answers to their most basic (or not so basic) nutrition questions. I also tried to make the book very practical and action-oriented so that people would not only understand why it's important to eat certain foods but to know how they could realistically do so.

: That’s so key, I think even when we know what to eat, we can all use help doing it! What do you feel are the most useful or “action oriented” sections?

Elisa: My favorite parts include chapters on Healthy Food Shopping, Weight Management, and Eating to Beat Disease. My Healthy Eating Tips chapter is also one of my favorites, since it breaks down goals like limiting saturated or trans fat, reducing sugar intake, or boosting fiber intake into practical, real world tips that are easy to follow and incorporate.

: Oh yes, I loved the Eating Tips chapter too! I earmarked your advice for “increasing whole grains.” One last question, if there were a few foods people should keep “at their fingertips” what should they be?

: You can keep nutrition at your fingertips by stocking up on and consuming all kinds of fresh and frozen (without added sugar) fruits and veggies; protein-rich foods such as lentils and other beans, fish (canned light or albacore tuna and sardines), nuts and nut butters (made without added sugar) and lean meats (sirloin, chicken or turkey breast); low fat dairy foods; whole grains such as low sugar cereals/pasta/brown or wild rice; and last but not least, healthy oils like olive oil or canola oil.

Lauren: Ooh sardines, I need to delve into sardines haven’t ever really gone there. And I think wild rice gets forgotten too. Thanks Elisa for such good advice!

What are your favorite nutrition books or cookbooks? And what foods to you try to keep at your fingertips?

Friday, January 22, 2010

Talking Turmeric

Every so often, for the past of couple of weeks, my mother has been emailing me photos. The photo above, entitled The Salt Gatherers, she sent yesterday. My mother explained her month-long trip this way “some people grieve by getting in bed and pulling the covers up over their heads. I feel it’s best for me to continue to live.” I credit my mother for this and have been living vicariously through her during her trip to India. I have been hearing about the food she is eating and all the delicious flavors and combinations. Yesterday she wrote “I had a porridge of rice, cashews, raisins, curry leafs and cardamom for breakfast.” I could practically taste it. And so in honor of my mother, I am going to tell you about something she is eating a lot of in those curries. Today let’s talk turmeric.

If I had to pick one spice, I wished clients used more in their cooking it would be turmeric. Turmeric is one of the spices used in curries but also what gives yellow mustards their color. In Chinese and Indian medicine turmeric has been used for centuries as an anti-inflammatory. Turmeric is helpful for my sports nutrition clients as it decreases joint pain. Turmeric is also a potent antioxidant and has been shown to slow the growth of cancer cells. Turmeric may also help your liver clear LDL cholesterol and lower cholesterol. It is especially interesting to note that in India where turmeric consumption is very high, Alzheimer’s rates are extremely low.

I asked my friend John Marsh, the chef at the Green Door Café for a non-curry turmeric recipe. This one sounds great.

Potent Antioxidant Chicken Broth with Turmeric

1, 2-3 pound all natural chicken

3 legs of celery

1 medium white onion

1 carrot

Chop all except the chicken

2 bay leafs

3 black peppercorns

Parsley/thyme bouquet

4 quarts water

1 tablespoon ground turmeric

Bring all to a boil; reduce to simmer for 1 hour remove chicken, let cool. Strain solids out of the broth. Remove chicken from carcass and dice. Add your favorite vegetables diced, simmer 5 -15 min depending on how soft you like your vegetables. Add diced chicken, salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Turmeric works well in dips, egg salad and lentils. Chef John recommends organic turmeric from Whole Foods or Fairway. He also uses turmeric with fish, especially snapper and grouper, and says it's great in preparing risotto or any other good rice dish. I also would like to point out turmeric is available in capsule form in one of my favorite supplements called Zyflammend.

In case you’re not convinced (how could this be?) turmeric, in a 2009 Tufts study, showed promise as a weight loss aid…in mice.

What are your favorite spices? Any other turmeric recipes or ideas?

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Shared Fare

One of the first meals my husband had with my family was at Emerils in New Orleans. My sister and her family, my parents, Marc (then my boyfriend) and I were at dinner celebrating my graduation from Tulane. Midway through our appetizers, I distinctly recall a concerned look on Marc’s face. My family, in our usual manner, was passing bread and butter plates with tastes of crab cakes and oysters around the table. This was completely foreign to Marc. In his family, with 5 brothers, you order and eat your own food. There are no tastes of others’ selections and more important nobody was asks for tastes of your food. Marc obliged, after all he was still a boyfriend, but was not happy about this sharing. It wasn’t until our entrees arrived that Marc realized sharing had its benefits. In a predominantly female family, there was plenty of excess and half-portions left for Marc to enjoy.

Sharing food can be tricky business. For Marc it was relinquishing some of his food, the actual act of sharing, that wasn’t natural after years of duking it out for the extra piece of chicken with his brothers. For many of my clients sharing food is difficult when you are trying to eat healthfully. Tonight I’m heading to dinner for a friend’s birthday. We’re going to a tapas restaurant which means sharing will be involved. It’s hard to know how much you eat when you have a little of this and a little of that. Furthermore, when you share everyone is ordering and your friends may not care if crispy really means fried beyond recognition.

So what to do? Short of refusing to share, a few tips:

• Drunk driving is terrible but drunk ordering isn’t so good either. It’s always a good idea to order with a clear head. Lots of things sound better after a cocktail.
• Whenever possible serve yourself all food on one plate so that you can get a visual of what you are eating. When food doesn’t arrive at once, try to keep mental log of what you ate (1 chicken sate, 1 lettuce wrap etc).
• Put your two cents in. Even if it’s not exciting, make sure among the dishes ordered there’s a salad, side order of vegetables or plainer item. If others do not eat these, that’s fine more for you.
• You are not a toddler and the days are over when you have to try everything. I was with my soon-to-be nutritionist friend Sue yesterday and told her about this post. She remarked “if I don’t order cream sauces on my own, I’m not eating them when others order.” While one bite of something will not derail you, a bunch of bites add up.
• And finally, the extra couple of dishes that get ordered with tapas are generally unnecessary. Ever leave a cocktail party assuming you would need dinner and realize you’ve had enough? If not, pay close attention next time. A few small plates, a drink or 2 is plenty.

I will let you know how the sharing goes tonight. How do you fare with shared food? Any tips?

Friday, January 15, 2010

Help Haiti Blog Challenge

I am insensitive. I woke up this morning worked out, got a pedicure and came home to do some work before leaving town for the weekend. I was planning a post on my favorite snack bars of all things. I poked around the internet, reading some of my favorite blogs and was basically called out. On a site I love called Ivy League Insecurites, I read about the Help Haiti Blog Challenge. I knew of the devastating earthquake this week and am generally an empathetic person. Why then had I basically gone about my week without stopping to think about the horror of Haiti? Countless people are now day 3 without food and water. Why hadn’t I done anything? I am not sure but would bet I am not the only newly insensitive one. So I did some research (aka searched twitter for “food and Haiti) focused on the food situation in Haiti and came up with some ideas.

Ways you can help:

1. If you are a blogger, join the Help Haiti Blog Challenge

2. Check out for information of benefit dinners for Haiti

3. Take some of the extra dry goods from your pantry and donate it to the Red Cross or bring it to UPS. UPS will ship anything less than 50 pounds free to Haiti.

4. Sign up for Foodtraining. If you book an initial session with me by Monday 1/18, I will donate the profits to Haiti.

It’s so easy to get caught up in our lives and lists and luxuries, I did. I’m so happy I was called out and that I woke up. Let me know what you’re doing to help Haiti.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

31st Grade Reading Journal: Food Rules

I know I recently wrote about Michael Pollan insulting me. Despite the affront, I purchased Pollan’s latest book Food Rules and a hard copy not the Kindle edition no less. Food Rules- an eater’s manual presents 64 guidelines for healthy eating. The book is succinct, about the size of one of my 7 year olds chapter books. If America followed the same size trend Pollan’s books are taking we’d be in good shape.

My five favorite (of Pollans) Food Rules:
#3 Avoid food products containing ingredients that no ordinary human being would keep in the pantry. Pollan remarks “if you wouldn’t cook with it yourself, why let others use these ingredients to cook for you?”

• #23 Treat meat as a flavoring or special occasion food. Americans eat too much meat; I suggest trying to keep animal protein to once a day a portion no bigger than a blackberry.

#37 The whiter the bread the sooner you’ll be dead. I love this rule. I love this rule because the whites (bread, pasta, sugar) contribute to systemic inflammation which leads to all major diseases . But really I love this rule because it rhymes!

• #39 Eat all the junk food you want as long as you cook it yourself. Cookie monster? Use oats and dark chocolate chips when baking. French Fry fan? Try sweet potatoes and oven-frying. And it’s not only about healthy modifications, it’s about the ingredients mentioned in rule #3 (above) that will be absent from your homemade junk food.

• #58 Do all your eating at the table. This comes from a section of the book entitled “how should I eat.” This is my favorite part of the book as it focuses on what I call eating style. Eating style: where we eat, the pace of our eating, the distractions present while eating is an overlooked component of eating. Mr. Pollan is asking us to pay attention to our eating. And in case you were trying to fudge it he says “no, a desk it not a table.”

What are your personal food rules? Which of the above favorite 5 rules resonates with you?

Saturday, January 9, 2010

NPO Forever

When I worked in a hospital, NPO was one of those abbreviations we used in patients charts. NPO comes from the Latin nil per os. In case your Latin is a little rusty, the translation is “nothing by mouth.” Patients in the hospital are often NPO the day or night before surgery. At times NPO is also necessary following a procedure or when patients are unconscious and unable to digest food. In these situations various types of feeding tubes are used until patients can eat on their own. Well, what if NPO wasn't a temporary state? This had never occurred to me until earlier today.

I had a few minutes to spare and was killing time on Twitter. For some reason I was struck by a tweet from Perez Hilton which said “stay strong ROGER EBERT!!!.” I don’t know if it was the triple exclamation points or that I had no idea why Roger Ebert needed to stay strong but I clicked on the link. I then read the post “Nil by Mouth." Mr Ebert explained that after a string of surgeries he was no longer able to eat, drink or talk. He had no reason to expect this to change…ever. 

Mr Ebert doesn't experience extreme hunger or thirst; he is getting nourishment via a feeding tube directly to his stomach. He admits he has had a series of food obsessions. Candy figures prominently in many cravings. Mr Ebert writes of a dream in which he had a package of Chuckles filled entirely with the black chuckles (though I don’t love candy, I always feel us black jelly bean or neco wafer people need to band together). Mr Ebert is now dependent on many of his food memories to satisfy him. He says many of his cravings have as much to do with fond associations and memories of a food than anything else. Mr Ebert’s writing seemed lighthearted recalling his food obsessions. His tone changed when he described what he misses most. "The food and the drink I can do without easily. The jokes, gossip, laughs, arguements and shared memories I miss."

What Roger Ebert misses most is what we all should appreciate more. With so much written and debated about what to eat (guilty as charged), perhaps we’re all missing the boat. A popular term in the lexicon of nutrition is satiety. Experts endlessly debate what combination or portions of food will satisfy us. Maybe what’s meant to be ingested and savored is, as Mr Ebert says, the dining not the food.
What are your most memorable meals? I would love to hear about them. This weekend, try to share a meal with friends or family and please savor it.

Monday, January 4, 2010

I'm Fat

I am not fishing for compliments; I’m not looking for “Lauren, you’re not fat you look great.” And I know I’m not really fat. My weight is generally in the same 3-4 pound range it was pre-kids, I wear a small size…you get it. You may be wondering then what is with the title of this post, well I’ll tell you. It all started this morning. After 10 days in Vermont, I boldly hopped on my bathroom scale. I was well above that normal range, a whopping 6 pounds heavier than when I left! For my body I am fat. What’s semi-interesting about this fatness is that I ate well and exercised while away.

In terms of exercise, I was not running miles a day or locating a spin class in Southern Vermont. I was, however, skiing, snowshoeing or at the gym 8 of the 10 days away, not bad-right? It feels virtuous to report I had a salad every day I was at the mountain for lunch and split pea soup (that I made) on other days. I set a no fried food and no wheat (I don’t eat wheat anyway but not for weight purposes) guideline. I had no days where I had more than 2 drinks (including New Years Eve!!) and no desserts except dark chocolate. And I was surrounded by 2 young boys having hot chocolate, macaroni and cheese and all of the other mountain temptations. If a client gave me this report post-trip I would commend them.

There is a little more to the story though. As a nutritionist I know details are important. Starting with the alcohol, while I never had too much to drink, I also never had a night I did not drink. At home I hover at about 4 drinks a week and away it was probably double. For dinners at home I tend to be the fish and shellfish girl. Although I did manage 3 fish dinners away, there was a lot more meat in my diet. As for “no wheat no fried foods” I was perfectly fine until a run in with nachos on Saturday night. Anticipating the nachos, I corrected with a green salad for my entrée but I cannot lie, there were nachos (and they were good). And finally, on the way home last night we avoided reliving “Fast Food Slaytons” but stopped on the road for dinner. My large tomato soup probably had as many milligrams of sodium as there are people in China.

All in all I still feel good about my eating and exercise over the holidays. It’s just important to remember that pretty good vacation eating can still be very different calorically from day-to-day eating. I know, from weighing clients every day, that the scale will be down tomorrow with one day of clean NYC eating. And chances are by Friday, when I have to go on TV talking about New Year’s Resolutions; I will no longer be fat.

How was your eating over the holidays or while away? Are you fat today too?

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Michael Pollan Insulted Me

As you may know if you’ve read my recent posts, I am up in Vermont. We have been here for 10 days of skiing, snowshoeing and hanging out with the kids by the fire. It may be hard to believe that in such surroundings anything could ruffle my feathers but something did. Actually, someone did and to add insult to injury it’s someone I really respect. While the kids were skiing one day, I decided to catch up on reading and work. I opened up one of Michael Pollan’s emails and heard about his new collection of food wisdom entitled Food Rules.

I enthusiastically read on as Mr. Pollan explained Food Rules and the reasoning behind it. And then I read something that extinguished my excitement, Mr Pollan wrote “a healthy diet is a whole lot simpler than the food industry and many nutritional scientists –what I call the Nutritional Industrial Complex—would have us believe.” Ouch! I spent years at New York University’s Department of Nutrition and Food Studies pouring over textbooks containing…nutritional science. That coursework helped me greatly as I entered the workplace first at St Lukes Obesity Research Center (creating nutritional science) and later at Foodtrainers where clients came to see me, at least in part, because they felt I had two nutrition degrees and an implied handle on nutritional science. It seems Michael Pollan, whose books I read and lectures I attend, was taking a jab at my profession and colleagues and it wasn’t really the first time.

We have 2 sons who play hockey. My husband, in an effort to toughen the boys up, says to them “if someone pushes you (on the ice), you push them back.” While I initially objected to such reasoning, I am going to jump on my husbands’ bandwagon in the case of Mr Pollan. Lauren Slayton MS RD is pushing back. Let’s start with what has become Michael Pollan’s mantra for healthy eating:

“Eat real food, not too much of it, and more plants than meat. Or, put another way, get off the modern western diet, with its abundance of processed food, refine grains and sugars, and its sore lack of vegetables, whole grains and fruit.”

While this is sensible, clear advice it is limited in the “how” and “where” people should obtain this real food when we are surrounded by faux, junky food. For example, I would love to know what Michael Pollan would feed his children in a ski lodge or what he’d suggest I feed my children. Even our savvy Foodtrainers’ clients get confused in the supermarkets and need a roadmap of specifics. You simply cannot send people to a market and say “eat more plants.” We created a whole Market Foodtraining program to show people which food products are toxic and dangerous and which are ok when you’ve had your kale and your apples and crave something else.

Soon after the first email from events@MichaelPollan, a follow up email listing some of the Food Rules arrived. Don’t get me wrong, a lot or maybe all of what Mr Pollan writes is logical and sound. If you are interested in healthy eating, this new book may be a good primer. What I am saying, and remember I am “pushing back”, is that this list of rules may not be enough. Take one rule, “#47 Eat when you are hungry, not when you are bored.” On its surface, this makes sense. However, a great many Americans are emotional eaters eating when bored or stressed or for many other reasons other than hunger. Reading rule #47 is going to do as much as doctors who say “you may be better off eating an apple than a cookie.” Eating is often a deeper issue and may require further work, maybe with a nutritionist (trained in the very nutritional science Mr Pollan insulted). After years of counseling all types of eaters, I wish there was a list that could simplify eating and cure us of our food issues but I don’t think it’s enough on its own.

Nutritionists may be the very people who can carry out Michael Pollan’s wisdom. Doctors don’t have the time and a pamphlet, though concise, isn’t enough in my opinion to properly educate people about eating. For this reason, and of course my own feelings, I worry Mr Pollan may be alienating the very people who can carry out his mission. We, the nutritionists, can fill in the gaps and offer up the specifics.

I will purchase Mr Pollan’s book because, despite the affront, I see value in what he does and writes. I hope that, despite some of the shortcomings of nutritional science, Mr Pollan will respect nutritionists too.