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Food Label History

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) began regulating food labels following the passage of the Nutrition Education and Labeling Act in 1990. The first set of rules came out late in 1993 and became effective in 1994. This is the reason all of the food labels on foods look mostly the same. Little changes were made to the regulations, save for the addition of trans fats in 2006.

The original goal of the labeling standard was to” reduce consumer confusion about labels, help consumers make better food choices and encourage innovation by giving manufacturers an incentive to improve the nutrition profiles of foods” (Fact Sheet on New Proposed Nutrition Facts Label).

But now, the FDA has released two proposals for change in order to update the label based on new nutrition and public health findings, and to update serving sizes to more accurately reflect what consumers actually eat.

Key Changes You’ll Notice 

Adding “Added Sugars”– the new label would provide a place to declare added sugars, so consumers of juice, dried fruit, or other similar products would have a clear understanding of what came from the fruit itself, and what was added. For example, on a container of dried cranberries you will now see how much sugar comes fro, the cranberries, and how much comes from the added apple juice or other sugar source.

Ditching “Calories from Fat”– when the food label was first developed in the early 1990’s, the United States was on its big low fat kick. Now that we know total fat is a less important to overall health than diet pattern, it doesn’t make sense to keep it on the label. Research also indicates that removing this information wouldn’t change a consumer’s ability to decide if the food is healthful or not.

New Nutrients  – some nutrients – like calcium – must be stated on the label because they are “nutrients of public health significance”. These are nutrients that have have implications for health but for which most people do not consume enough. Calcium (because of its relationship to bone health) and iron (because low intake is related to iron deficiency anemia) were already required, and now potassium and vitamin D have been added. Vitamin D has an important relationship to bone health and general health, and potassium plays a role in lowering blood pressure. Survey research has indicated that some groups do not get enough of both nutrients.

Serving Size

In addition to changes in what goes on the label, you might also notice that some of the food you’re eating look like they’re higher in calories. This is due to a change in the “serving size” listed usually at the top of the label, or the amount of food for which the calorie information was calculated. The FDA proposes increasing some of these serving sizes to better reflect what people actually eat.

Study after study has shown that Americans are notoriously bad at estimating how much we’re eating, usually tending to underestimate. How many people, while tracking their calories, have eaten a food without measuring it, gone to log it, and figured you probably ate the serving size on the bag or jar? It’s pretty hard, even for those of us basically trained in it, to eyeball the portion size of a food.

A great example of this is ice cream. The listed serving size of ice cream is 1/2 cup. That’s about one rounded scoop, but most people eat 2-3 times that much, but may think they’re not because of the serving size. In the grocery store, a “serving” that is 200-290 calories doesn’t seem that scary. Yeah, it’s added calories, but 200 feels snack sized. No big deal. But if people saw a label saying what they were really eating – 400-600 calories – they might feel differently.

The Controversy 

There tends to be controversy surrounding two of the label proposals: added sugar and serving size.

Added sugar

Some argue that this information is singling out sugar as a “bad” nutrient the way fat mistakenly was in the 1990’s. Others argue that this will do nothing to alleviate confusion among consumers – especially if marketers use it to make juice or dried fruit look healthier than it is. This tweet from the Welch’s dietitian is a great example.

Screen Shot 2015-09-15 at 2.11.49 PM

Serving Size

Those for increasing the serving size make similar arguments to the ones I made above – that people are eating more than they think, and the serving sizes kept low are allowing people to falsely think their calorie intake is lower than it really is. And we all know when it comes to weight loss, ultimately caloric intake is important information. Those against it fear that increasing the listed serving size will increase how much people eat, as many consumers likely see the serving sizes as recommendations rather than values to help them understand the calorie information in context.

I honestly am not sure how consumers will respond to either of these. I personally will find the added sugar information interesting, especially on items like “fruit on the bottom” yogurt, where it will allow me to see what is naturally occurring dairy and fruit sugar and what is added in processing. The serving size information won’t have much impact, as I already pay close attention to it and multiply or divide accordingly (as do most type 1 or insulin dependent diabetics).

What do you guys think of the new labels? Good, bad, or neutral for overall public health?

08 Sep 2015

Food Wars: Europe Vs. America

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When I returned from a trip to Germany and Italy a few years ago, I wrote a post on some of the food and lifestyle behaviors Europeans do that Americans probably should. After returning from France, I figured I’d share my old findings and add a few.

Many of you may be familiar with the“French paradox”, by which the French (and other Europeans) eat diets higher in saturated fat and grains, yet are healthier and leaner than Americans. Look at this infographic of obesity prevalence around the world to highlight that point.



This is an old graphic (I think Mexico may be beating us now) but most of it still stands. So, what’s the big difference? I didn’t 100% know when I returned from Italy and Germany, but I think I have a better idea now, and it has a lot to do with how food is viewed. In Europe, it’s something delicious to be enjoyed. In America, it’s a billion plus dollar industry. No one in France would think their city calling on companies to serve reasonable portions of soda constitutes a restriction on their Freedom. Nor would a tax on soda faze them. They don’t drink that much of it from what I saw, and everything else is taxed there anyway. (Note: I don’t actually know if soda is taxed in France. Maybe it already is.)

The below six points are things I noticed from the first trip.

1. Soda costs more than booze, almost everywhere. A 12-ounce can of soda was 2.50 Euro almost everywhere I went. In Germany, you could get a liter of beer for 3.50 Euro. This receipt shows Grappas (a type of Brandy) also costs less than cola. I think we might all agree that reducing the availability and low price point of soda could go a long way in reducing how much of it people drink.



2. In Germany, sausage is a salad. Who needs vegetables when there’s meat? (That’s sarcasm, guys, vegetables are really important).

Note: there were also sausage salads in France.



3. Meat is locally grown. Most of the vegetables are, too. And it’s so fresh! Doesn’t it look delicious? Pretty sure we can again all agree that grass fed, happy, locally grown animals produce better tasting and healthier meat than industrially produced animals. Studies have shown grass fed meat is slightly higher in omega-3 fats than grain fed, and my numerous n=1 experiments have shown that it tastes far better.




4. Their large portion is our extra small. Or in Starbucks speak, “short”. Which I’ve noticed isn’t on the big menu and generally has to be asked for at many locations. Italians still drink lattes and macchiatos, but they don’t drink 30 ounces of them pumped full of pumpkin or caramel syrup.



5. We say “soda”, they say “water”. Apparently, “water” in Germany means seltzer. If you want that liquid we think of as water, you ask for “still water”. And it’s kind of hard to find.

6. There is no such thing as a supermarket. In Florence, our host told us that a few blocks over we’d find a “large supermarket with everything you could want in there”. Turns out it was smaller than the Washington Street Whole Foods and the Central Square CVS. All of the cookies, chips, and snacks were in one small aisle and fresh food was abundant. It had everything  could ever want, but I’m sure some Americans might disagree with me.


A few things to add…

7. Food was not everywhere. At one point I felt a little nauseous and wanted a Ginger ale. It took us 15 minutes to find a place that sold a can of it. In France, food is sold at the grocery store, at bakeries, at convenience stores at the train station, and at restaurants. It is NOT in the pharmacy or in the checkout aisle of the electronics store, and there was not a bodega or convenience store every other block selling food. The European diet may be high in bread and cheese, but they make up for it by not snacking all the time.

8. Specialty stores are abundant. We stayed in a trendy area on Rue Montorgueil, and the main street had a fruit stand, a fish stand, a butcher shop, and a bakery. Instead of going to the grocery store and having to pass by the cookie aisle, you could pick up any time of produce you could possibly want, local meat, and of course baguette on your walk home. I can only wish Harvard square had such a setup.

9. The bread came WITH the meal. This was almost my favorite thing. We’ve all had the experience of going out to eat with a growling stomach, placing your order, and immediately receiving bread. You’re trying so hard to just wait until dinner but that bread is just sitting there… In France, the bread comes at the same time as the meal. No temptation. I would love to know how many calories could be shaved off the average American diet if the Olive Garden breadsticks came WITH the meal, and not before it.

A few non- food related things I noticed…

1. Many have active commutes. In Munich, the bike lane was part of the sidewalk and just as wide. In Florence, cars can only drive in the city with special permit, so biking and walking is a regular form of commuting. And in France, the bus had it’s own driving lane, so cars didn’t have to play leapfrog with the bus. Safe, and convenient. While we’re on active commuting,


2. They get over 21 vacation days per year, NOT including holidays. One Swiss man I met at a beer hall told me he was mad that he only got 24 days instead of 27, and that he felt bad for my paltry 14 days. Hey, maybe those extra vacation days reduce stress and inflammation!

How America Wins

While our food system is a mess,  I think there is one area where we’re ahead of the game.

We are not Chimneys. They seriously smoke like chimneys over there. We had to leave one cafe because the gentleman next to us was on his fourth cigarette pointed right into my face. We all know the risks of cigarettes, and America is way ahead of the game in reducing second hand smoke and helping people quit.

What do you think? Notice anything like this when you travel? Share!

OK, I’m not really going to tell you HOW to fail, but I will talk about a few ways you might have in the past, and how you can fix it. This may surprise a few people, but you can be overweight or at your ideal weight on any diet. I have seen a vegan patient who was very obese, while on the other hand a professor in Kansas lost 27 pounds eating nothing but Twinkies, Oreos, Doritos, and sugary cereal. While I don’t recommend this “Twinkie diet” – professor Haub was doing it to make a point about energy balance – I will say that maintaining a healthy weight and getting the best performance out of your body is based on many factors. Research has shown a variety of eating patterns including the Mediterranean diet, Paleolithic diet, and low fat diets can help people lose weight and improve health markers like cholesterol and blood sugar. No matter what type of nutrition plan you follow, there are a few key things that will help you maintain optimal weight and perform at your best. In this post, I’ll talk about some of the common mistakes people make, and how you can fix them.

Paleo Problems

The Paleo diet is unique in that it is one of the few that doesn’t place a heavy focus on portion sizes. While Weight Watchers followers for example are measuring everything, Paleo eaters are encouraged to toss the measuring cup back in the drawer and eat fruits, veggies, and meat until they are full. And it makes sense. It’s way harder to over eat broccoli, with about 50 calories per cup, and grilled chicken. But sometimes it’s easy to get busy and distracted and end up eating too much of the wrong stuff. Here are a few common mistakes made by Paleo followers:

  • Too many nuts. Nuts and nut butters provide healthy fats and help keep you full longer, and they are a good addition to a balanced diet. But if you’re finishing a whole jar of almond butter or you go through a whole bag of walnuts in under a week, you’re not going to see the results you want.
  • Paleo “Treats”. Just because you can make something Paleo doesn’t mean it’s healthy or that it’s OK to eat regularly. In fact, I have made Paleo cookies that are double the amount of calories in a normal cookie. Almond flour is energy dense and the sugar in honey is still sugar. These treats add a lot of calories and fat while still not giving you very many of the nutrients you really need – fiber, protein, and vitamins – that you will get from meat, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Backsliding. This is what happens when your “80-20” (aka eating Paleo 80% of the time while allowing a few other items like dairy, dark chocolate, or beer in from time to time) becomes “60-40” and then “kinda Paleo”, and then… you get the idea. This also happens when your one cheat day becomes the whole weekend.

Other Diet Mistakes

The Paleo diet is not the only diet that can be “done wrong”. Here are a few other mistakes people make:

  • Overeating a food because it is “low this” or “healthy”. Really, too much of anything is bad news. Even healthy stuff. I wouldn’t recommend anyone eat 3 brownies in a day, but I also wouldn’t recommend eating 3 avocados or 3 bananas in a day either. The key is balance, variety, and choosing whole, unprocessed foods.
  • Misreading the labels. A food can be “high fructose corn syrup free” but still contain a lot of a different type of sugar. Grains and cereals can be labeled “whole grain” but contain little whole wheat flour and plenty of other not so awesome ingredients (like added sugars). And many foods can be labeled “natural” but still contain as many processed ingredients as your not so natural Pop Tart. It’s important to check the back of the box. If you want whole wheat bread, the first ingredient should be “100% whole wheat flour”. If you want unprocessed food, look for a short list of ingredients that don’t have complicated names. Also, check your dried fruit and nut butters for added sugars, and go for the option without them.
  • Trusting the names and claims. Just because something is vegan, vegetarian, low fat, low carb, “healthy choice”, or Weight Watchers approved doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, many Weight Watchers and Healthy Choice meals and desserts contain artificial crap and preservatives (think about how long they’ve been in that freezer). Same goes for the vegan items. Have you seen the ingredients in vegan cheese? Just stick to whole foods.

The Fixes

Be mindful of portions. Don’t stress about measuring vegetables, but keep in mind that serving of nuts is ¼ cup and a serving of nut butter is 2 tablespoons. Try to shoot for no more than one or two servings per day. If you don’t have a measuring cup on hand, ¼ cup is about the size of a large egg or an average handful, and 2 tablespoons is similar in size to a ping pong ball. This is important even if you’re an athlete trying to gain weight. Too much fat at one time can make you feel sluggish, and if you eat it too close to a workout can cause an upset stomach.

Keep eating a balanced diet. Meals should be a colorful array of protein, fruits and vegetables, and healthy fats. If your whole plate is tan or white, add some color. And spread m
eals throughout the day. Eating big meals usually leads to points of sluggish fullness and hunger. Have moderately sized meals and a few smaller snacks every 3-4 hours to stay fueled, ward of hunger, and keep your metabolism humming at a good pace.

  • Track your food. You can use apps like MyFitnessPal (compatible for iPhone and droid, and usable online via computer) to enter your food and create recipes from a very wide database of foods. Tracking food keeps you more attuned to what you’re eating, which can help you avoid mindless snacking and prevent a back slide. It will also alert you to any glaring issues in your diet, like eating too little carbs or over doing it on the fat. You can also graph sodium and vitamin levels to see if you’re getting too little or too much of any nutrients.
  • Plan ahead. It’s easy to keep up the same bad habits when you’re on autopilot. If you want to change up your meals, revamp your snacks, or be more mindful of portions, then plan for it. Sit down with a cookbook and come up with a few new meal ideas. Make a grocery list so you don’t forget anything or buy additional items you don’t need (like cookies!). Make a few balanced meals and pre-portion them in Tupperware on an off day. This way when you get busy you’re well prepared with good food.
  • Cheat now and again. Instead of trying to “health-ify” your favorite pancake or cupcake recipe, just go get a Georgetown cupcake or make a batch of pancakes once in a while. As I’ve mentioned before here, having a planned cheat day on occasion can beneficially impact certain appetite regulating hormone levels and allow you to take a mental break, and can be very helpful in the long term maintenance of a good nutrition plan.
21 Aug 2015

Saturday 08-22-15

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Power: Snatch – 17 minutes to work up to a technical max for the day

Work: Complete reps of 21-15-9 for time
Wallball Shots, 20/15
Unbroken Double Unders

17 Aug 2015

Tips For Healthy Travels

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As many of you know, I am currently in France enjoying my honeymoon with Coach Pat, leaving my 6 am and 7 pm crews in the good hands of Micky, Neal, and G2. Since I’m currently traveling – and it being the last two weeks of August presumably so are many others – I thought I’d re share some tips to go on vacation and come back in the same pants size you left in.

1. Always be prepared with snacks. Pack nuts, trail mix, jerky, Lara bars, and other snacks to have in the airport, between work meetings (or sightseeing), and for late night cravings. Pack more than you think you’ll need, as healthy snacks can be hard to find in hotels and airports.

2. BYOB (Bring Your Own Breakfast). Unless you fork over $20 for the sit down breakfast, most hotels offer a continental breakfast comprised of cold eggs, processed bacon, pastures, bagels, cereal, and canned fruit cocktail. If you’re lucky, the eggs will be hot and there will be fresh fruit. Either way, the safest bet is often having something in your room you can eat, saving you money and keeping you on track. When I’m traveling I like to have a banana with peanut butter or oatmeal (you can usually find hot water) with dried fruit and nuts or nut butter. In a pinch, oatmeal from Starbucks isn’t the worst, and hard boiled eggs are becoming easier to find.

3. Do your homework. Look up restaurants that are near where you are traveling, and read over their menus before you go. Most places will offer some sort of meat/potatoes dish, or salmon and green vegetable. If you read up ahead of time, you can identify a few places you know you can find a healthy meal, and a few meals at each place. I find that having my mind made up before I get there helps me avoid the temptation to order something less nutritious.

4. Talk to your coworkers/travel mates. It’s 2015. There’s never been a bigger focus on health than right now. So I find it hard to believe that there isn’t at least one other person in your group who is trying to pay attention to health. I would say you are more likely to find other healthy eaters on a work trip, simply because on vacation people tend to care a little less about staying on the wagon (let’s just say when I traveled to Italy I was not worried about the pasta and gelato). For example, at my company there are at least 3-5 other people who are paleo or gluten free. I like going to eat with these people because I know they’ll be ordering something healthy, which encourages me to do the same.

5. Keep up the exercise. Sometime when you’re traveling, there’s not getting around a less than desirable meal. Your salmon comes with more sauce than you thought. There’s no other food available in the meeting besides pasta salad and sandwiches. Et cetera, et cetera. (And I haven’t even mentioned the booze yet…). Exercise can not only negate some of that damage, it can also give you more energy and motivate you to stay on track while you’re away. I travel to California every year for work, and try to take advantage of the time difference to get up and go running at least one morning. I’m also lucky enough to work for the fitness industry, so our work trip includes morning group classes (last year I went to a Piloxing class, and I was more sore after than I care to admit). If running outside or group classes aren’t an option, take advantage of what is. Use the pool in your gym to swim some laps. Look up hotel CrossFit workouts (or ask a coach for some ideas). Try deck of cards WOD (via the, app, or an actual deck of cards) in your hotel room. There are lots of creative ways to get 20-30 minutes of movement in during some part of your day. If there’s really not, try walking or taking the stairs as much as possible.

6. Go easy on the booze. Whether for work or play, traveling always seems to include healthy doses of adult beverages. When I travel for work, it’s cocktail hours with wine or open bar. When I travel it’s the booze of the land (bier in Germany, red wine in Italy…). Either way, try to aim for no more than one drink an hour, and mix in plenty of water between. Try to stick to one type of drink – wine, gin, beer, whatever. You can also order a vodka/gin and tonic for the first one, and quietly refill with just tonic or club soda the rest of the night. It’s important (at least at my work meetings) to appear social and participate in festivities, but I also need to have energy to get up and workout in the morning, so I aim for 1-2 drinks over the course of a five hour evening.

Photo c/o Nicolas Raymond

If you pay attention to public health news, you’ve probably noticed Coca Cola’s new strategy for the modern age: portray Coke products as part of any healthy diet. Talk about the importance of energy balance and the many factors contributing to obesity. Move the discussion towards “lifestyle” and away from “diet”. You can see evidence of this in their “Coming Together” ad from a few years ago.

You can also view Centers for Science in the Public Interest’s translation, because it’s both funny and true.

Screen Shot 2015-08-12 at 4.22.59 PMThis week, a report in the New York Times Well Blog seemingly confirming this strategy has been making the rounds on social media. The article revealed that Coca Cola is largely behind (at least financially) a new non-profit group called the Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN). From their website:

“The Global Energy Balance Network (GEBN) is a newly formed, voluntary public-private, not-for-profit organization dedicated to identifying and implementing innovative solutions – based on the science of energy balance – to prevent and reduce diseases associated with inactivity, poor nutrition and obesity. It is a premier world-wide organization led by scientists working on the development and application of an evidence-based approach to ending obesity.”

What’s more, it seems this partnerships was not disclosed at first (this has since been corrected). While a quick skim of their website reveals nothing particularly nefarious to me, it feels like a lot of public health speak. Like a grand celebration of getting into the weeds of obesity research rather than providing any useful, actionable information to the public.

Is This A Big Deal?

Coca Cola’s backing of this initiative does make me uncomfortable. If your product has been accused of largely contributing to a problem, your best bet is to make the problem seem as complex as possible and identify as many other contributors as you can, thus deflecting blame from yourself. Of course, science is great for this! Epidemiological research can never really prove causation, just correlation. There will never be hard proof that Coca Cola contributes to obesity. You’ll have to just draw on common sense to put it together…

In addition, I can’t prove these scientists are shaping their research to come to one conclusion over another. And I really would shy away form insinuating that without a lot more proof. I can’t prove GEBN was founded solely to muddy the waters in favor of Coca Cola’s business interests either, although I would be less shy about that accusation. I just know something smells a bit fishy, which is probably why the New York Times covered it (at the behest, it sounds like, of Yoni Freedhoff, MD, a researcher and professor at Ottowa University).

Can you drink a Coke every day and maintain a healthy weight? Yes, with the right combination of diet and exercise modification. I would guess you could replace “Oly Tea” with soda and nothing would change (although you might be a little nauseated from the carbonation). But do you really want to manipulate your diet so you can fit in brown sugary liquid? I’d much rather have a Boba tea, or flavored yogurt, or couple of chocolate almonds with my 140 calories than cola.

My main concern, though, is that anything that muddies the water for the general public is not helpful. We are in a period of infobesity – we have way more information than any human can digest. Lack of clarity often leads to inaction. We already know a lot about obesity prevention – as Dr. David Katz would say, we have the tools to prevent 80% of chronic disease, including obesity. We don’t need to analyze any more. Lots of evidence is in. We need to change our environment so that we’re not bombarded with 20 different candy bars as we wait in line to buy groceries. Coke and fast food companies need to stop targeting low income African American and Hispanic kids with ads for their junk. We need walkable, bike able city streets. Etc. Etc.

What we need is a little less talk, a lot more action. Preferably not from Coca Cola and friends.

Tom Leonard liked this post
03 Aug 2015

A Watermelon Juice Hack

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A few years ago I posted an article on watermelon juice, and how it may potentially be a recovery aid for athletes. I am inspired to repost some of the information now by a new hack for making watermelon juice that Pat discovered.

The evidence suggesting this benefit came from a study published in the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry and showed that a compound found in watermelon juice may help athletes recovery after exercise.

The compound is called I-Citrulline and is an amino acid that is metabolized in the body into arginine. Arginine is one of the essential amino acids and plays a role in cardiovascular and immune functions, including wound and injury healing (especially bone injuries). Oral arginine supplements have several benefits including wound and tissue healing and reducing blood pressure in people with clinically high blood pressure. Arginine’s role in immune function and tissue healing is what makes it interesting to athletes. A 2007 study showed that eating watermelon increases blood levels of arginine, which means the I-citrulline in watermelon was converted to the arginine in the body.

This particular study put 7 athletes through a max effort cycling test and provided them with either a placebo, about 16 ounces of natural watermelon juice, and watermelon juice infused with additional I-citrulline. Both watermelon juices were helpful in reducing recovery heart rate and muscle soreness 24 hours later.

I did a quick search to see if these results held up. I was only able to find one other study from 2015, in the Journal of Sports Science, which found that watermelon juice and l-citrulline had no effect on exercise performance.

It looks like this one study doesn’t give us enough evidence to start drinking watermelon juice daily. But since watermelon is in season and relatively inexpensive – and watermelon juice is delicious – it can’t hurt to make some. You do need carbohydrates before and after you workout anyway, why not from watermelon. 1 cup of watermelon chunks has 50 calories and 11 grams of carbohydrates.

Making Watermelon Juice

You can do this two ways.

1. Cut up watermelon, blend chunks in the blender until liquefied.

2. Blend in melon. Pat just tried this tonight and it came out pretty good. To make it:

  • Cut a hole in the watermelon roughly the size of the bottom of a drinking glass.
  • Put one arm on you hand blender, and insert it into the watermelon.
  • Blend until it was liquefied (or to preferred consistency)
  • Pour into a bowl or pitcher

Photo c/o White Magnolia Photography 

27 Jul 2015

Will Power As A Finite Resource

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Will power is often cited as the heavy hitting requirement for success in getting healthier – resisting that Oreo cookie, rejecting the snooze button to make your morning workout, and having the motivation to eat right, exercise, avoid temptation, take any medicine or supplements you require, and reach your goals. We always think of will power as this infinite resource that is either “have” or “have not”. Either you have a lot of will power and are fit, others don’t have any and thus are overweight, unhealthy, etc. I have not thought this was a correct assumption for a while, but something I’ve recently read reminds me it’s a good time to spread the message.

Today I began reading Switch: How To Change Things When Change Is Tough by Dan and Chip Heath. I’m only a few chapters in, but this gist is that change is difficult because we have two brains: the emotional brain and the rational brain. The emotional brain wants ice cream, beer, sleep, and Netflix binges while the rational mind wants to have a six pack and low cholesterol. Unfortunately, like Rich Froning at the CrossFit Games, the emotional mind almost always wins. The book discusses the keys to making changes even when they’re hard. It looks like

In addition to this dynamic, one concept that really stuck out for me was this:

What looks like laziness might be exhaustion

There have been a few studies where participants are asked to resist something tempting (like chocolate chip cookies), and then later to complete a difficult task. The example in Switch discusses asking some students to taste chocolate chip cookies and avoid eating radishes (so hard, I know), and some to taste radishes and not eat any of the aromatic chocolate chip cookies beside them. Later, both groups were asked to complete an impossible cognitive test. Those who did not have to resist cookies persevered for 19 minutes before giving up. Those how had to expend will power avoiding cookies lasted only eight.

What this tells us is that will power is an exhaustible resource. It is something you can run out of, just like gas in your car. This is the epitome of the problem with yo-yo diets – if the lifestyle change is unsustainable, you will run out of willpower and go back to old habits.

In order to make lasting changes, the key is to change your environment to make the behavior changes easier, and to create sustainable changes so that your emotional brain and rational brain are both on board. Prepare meals that are healthy AND taste good (credit fauntroy). Find social activities that are also active – tennis with your friends is probably more exciting and rewarding (in the short term) than running by yourself. In short, find the healthy behaviors that you find rewarding in the short term, so that you can continue them long enough to realize the longer term rewards.

Photo c/o Tiz



20 Jul 2015

Eat Ugly

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I have a new favorite Twitter account, and it’s called @UglyFruitAndVeg. In addition to advocating for less food waste, they post hilarious pictures of “ugly” fruits and vegetables – such as thumbs up strawberry and batman kiwi.

About that food waste…. most people know Americans waste a crap ton of food. Be it from restaurants over serving to leftovers forgotten in the back of the fridge to a slightly browned banana being tossed, industrialized nations (the US, Canada, Europe, etc) waste more food than sub-saharan Africa produces each year, according to United Nations Environment Programme. In addition to wasting what we’ve already bought or made, we also waste about 26% of fruits and vegetables produced because they don’t meet the aesthetic standards of the supermarkets. That’s a quarter of the produce grown in our country, unused because Safeway, Stop and shop, and Wegmans think it’s too ugly to sell in their stores.

How Can We Fix It?

A few ways.

  • More people growing their own produce or buying from a farmer’s market. The farmer’s markets are much less finicky about the aesthetics of their produce, and most people won’t throw away a vegetable they’ve grown unless it actually went bad.
  • Copy the French. The video about French grocery chain Intermarche and their initiative “Les Fruits et Legumes Moche” or the “Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables” made waves on social media last year. If you missed it, essentially the supermarket bought ugly produce that would have been tossed and sold it for 30% cheaper. You can watch a recap of the launch and how it worked on vimeo.
  • Advocate for different policies. End Food Waste has a petition out. If you’re so included, find it here.
  • Choose ugly. Sometimes, I try to choose the ugliest piece at the market because I worry it won’t get chosen by others. Am I the only one who worries about ugly produce being wasted?

I’m pretty excited to head to France in a few weeks, and I’ll be keeping my eye out for the Intermarche supermarket and some of their inglorious produce.

Photo c/o Jitze Couperus 

Preface: About two weeks ago, Nick Jonas, CrossFit, and the diabetes community got into a little kerfuffle over a tweet about diabetes. The internet joined in. This blog post is my opinion on the matter.

As some of you may or may not know, I’ve had Type 1 diabetes for 11 years. Obviously, I also do/teach CrossFit. Which made things interesting this past few weeks when the internet erupted in a CrossFit versus diabetes community tussle. If you missed it, here’s a recap:

1. Greg Glassman, founder and CEO of CrossFit, isn’t always known for making his point shall we say politely. He tweeted the following image with the line “Pour some out for your dead homies”.


2. Nick Jonas, singer and fellow type 1 diabetic, blasted Coach Glassman for “shaming” diabetics and encouraged him to become educated on the difference between type 1 and type 2. (If you happen to be unfamiliar with the difference, Google it – or visit this easy link to WebMD. I have spent enough of my life explaining this to people and have too much else to say to do it here).

3. Internet shitstorm ensues, as fitness bloggers, the diabetes community, medical professionals, and others chime in. (Yes I know, I’m chiming in now too. Pot, kettle, all that).

Two Sides To The Story

As a diabetic dietitian who CrossFits, I can see a few sides to this story.

Nick Jonas Side

Look, as ridiculous as this all is, I see where he is coming from. I have had friends and family – including some people in healthcare studies – ask me if I was “type 1 or type 2” (seriously if you don’t know the difference LOOK IT UP NOW). I’ve had people ask if I can eat the cookie that is inches from my lips, if I can drink the beer I just finished, and if I am gong to lose a foot one day (yes, really). It is MADDENING the things people assume, all for a disease you had no control over developing and struggle daily to treat –  because you have a few tools to deal with the 27 or more things that can influence your blood sugar. Sometimes it’s high or low for no reason at all, despite the most meticulous of self care.

As an added note, it turns out this weekend a young girl in Canada died from complications of undiagnosed diabetes (because there is also that fun time BEFORE you figure out why you drink more water than a camel at an oasis and feel like you have the flu all the time). I imagine had this tweet emerged a few weeks later the conversation would’ve taken a different turn.

Back to my point – having a disease you couldn’t prevent and struggle to control is maddening, depressing, frustrating, and inconvenient depending on the day. So when a guy who looks like he’s had one too many margaritas tweets something that could imply your daily struggle is your fault, you want to punch your computer. (I mean, in 11 years I’ve gotten a little more zen about it so I didn’t actually want to do that. I just kind of shook my head and thought “well that’s classic Greg Glassman…). But I get it. I get why Jonas was annoyed, and why as a famous person he may have felt the need to stand up for other kids.

Coach Glassman’s Side

Despite all that, I still did not have the visceral reaction to the tweet everyone else seems to have had. Maybe it’s because I think Coca Cola isn’t good for you, and even a slightly obnoxious ad dissuading consumption doesn’t worry me. Maybe it’s because I’m lucky enough to be around a lot of educated medical professionals in Boston who don’t ask me stupid questions. Maybe I’m so sick of reading about people who are offended by everything and anything, and would rather not see my disease corrupted to fuel the fake outrage machine.


Because despite being irreverent, outspoken, and giving 0 fucks, Greg Glassman has a point. I mean, the defenders do too to some extent – scientifically speaking, you can’t say Coke CAUSES diabetes, as there are a number of metabolic pathways and factors that contribute to development of type 2 diabetes. It would be nearly impossible to determine the exact causative power of just one of those many factors. You also can’t say it is caused by genetics or caused by physical inactivity alone. They all contribute, in different ways and to varying degrees depending on a number of individual factors. But I digress.

The real point here is that Coke isn’t so good for you. Sugar sweetened beverages have been linked to higher risk of obesity and diabetes. Centers for Science In The Public Interest (CSPI) advocate in favor of reducing sugary beverage consumption and have advocated for soda taxes. They are also responsible for the “Real Coke Bears” video, which was just as provocative as the Glassman tweet, if not more so (I mean, polar bear amputation with a chainsaw!). And CSPI is not some Food Babe type crank selling organic juice in the right side bar – they accept no industry funding and have been advocating for better health policies for over 40 years.

The worst part of all this for me, though, was seeing diabetes advocates and research organizations DEFENDING COCA COLA. Organizations like JDRF – that I look to for updates on research and policy (and have considered trying to run Boston for should I even get bit by the marathon bug again) – defending a multi million dollar junk food company.


First of all, Coca Cola and the beverage industry do not need your defense. They have spent millions of dollars campaigning against penny per ounce taxes in super liberal cities. They don’t need our help here, OK. Secondly, stating the public and scientifically unopposed fact that sugary beverages increase the risk of diabetes (let me specify type 2, in case a Jonas brother is reading) is not the same thing as shaming someone. Saying “coke causes diabetes” is not shaming, even if technically incorrect. Asking me if I am going to lose a foot one day or if I “can/should be eating that” IS shaming. To claim you are being shamed when you are not takes away from the real instances of shaming and bullying I’m sure some kids do face.

To conclude my novella, in this type 1 diabetic’s opinion, Coach Glassman is right and everyone else needs to just calm the heck down. Because maybe if we can get down off our outrage box for a minute, we might actually do something to educate the public and prevent what I can attest is a pretty crappy disease from spreading more than it already has.


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