What Do You Want?

So this post is a LONG time coming. I haven’t taken the time to sit down and write about this because for a while I felt like I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t have any answers. Here’s the short of it: After seeing more and more talk of amenorrhea by Heather, Robyn, Tina and others, I realized that it was something I needed to confront. I lost my period in high school, during a period of social stress and disordered eating, and never really got it back. I decided to stop ignoring the issue and finally, truly, focus on getting it back. Thanks to a lot research, doctor visits, reading (highly recommend No Period Now What by Nicola Rinaldi if you are curious or going through something similar), I figured that I needed to stop exercising. What took me longer to get comfortable was the ultimate reality: I needed to take a hard look at my habits and let. them. go.

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A critical thinker by nature, attempting to let go of the reins and adopt intuition about eating and exercise has been difficult. I’ve taken the ‘curiosity’ approach to heart, maybe too much?, but overall I’m SO glad for it. I’ve been asking myself ‘why’ a lot these days. Why did I lose my period and why didn’t it come back? Why did I start running and why is it so hard for me to let go of the reins? Why do I need my period to come back? Why is it so uncomfortable to gain weight even though I logically know I need to?

Intuitive Eating helped me realize just how deeply internalized many dieting messages were in my mind, even as I actively rejected dieting and thought I had healed my relationship to food. “Am I hungry or just bored?” I would ask myself, while simultaneously coming back with “even if I am just bored, will eating now make me less of a person?” “What’s wrong with eating an apple for a snack if it’s what truly satisfies me in that moment?” and then immediately asking “Am I only satisfied by the apple because I don’t want to go *overboard* on my intake during the day?”

Celebrate PublicService Day!

Questioning my questions has opened up a lot of realizations about how I had adopted habits with food and exercise as part of a lifestyle that I was trained to view as the healthiest. What I’ve discovered after thoroughly, curiously and non-judgmentally assessing my choices and desires is a quest for control that stems from a lack of trust with myself. A lack of trust between myself and the world.

Woah.

I genuinely believed (subconsciously) that I could not be healthy if I did not maintain tight control on what I ate and how I moved. Even if I allowed myself to indulge every day, I counted these as measured indulgences that would eventually be *balanced* out by restriction of some kind in another area. I noticed that sometimes the intensity of my exercise correlated with how *loose* I let my eating habits become. I’d make sure to sweat extra hard if I had gone out to dinner or drank a few too many glasses of wine the night before.

This is a practice I see prescribed to people every day as perfectly normal. Is it healthy? I can’t answer that for you, but my missing period tells me otherwise.

Intuitive Eating is like that scene in The Notebook where I am Noah and my brain is Allie. With less romance. What do I want? Why do I want it? I’ve rejected the diet mentality. I’m learning to accept the ‘why’ and not question it to death. Trusting my gut and following my intuition takes practice every day, but I think I’m finally ACTUALLY getting the hang of it.

 

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My philosophy about nutrition and health has grown more than a 14 year old boy over the past year. I’ve been become a permanent eye-roller when it comes to the diet industry. I’ve learned to accept that ‘health’ has a different definition for everyone, and is not a moral obligation for anyone.

Even though I’m faced with the reality that I’ve been inadequately honing in to my actual health needs (or else I would have a functioning hormonal/reproductive system), I’m motivated to continue to learn more about what I need every day. It’s been three months since I’ve stopped running and I still have a lot of work to do. There was a whole lot of denial at first, but slowly and surely I’ve been able to find a happy medium. I’ve given myself yoga as a way to feel like I’m moving with purpose and it has the double benefit of being both a gentle movement and giving me an extra hour to hone in on appreciating my body. I stopped wearing my running watch every day. I wear it every so often, but I no longer use it to track anything other than steps – and I don’t use these numbers to tell me about how I feel. If I feel tired even though I’ve only walked 5,000 steps, fine. Maybe I biked a lot that day or had an exhausting mental day. I’m not going to go out of my way to hit a certain number if my body is telling me otherwise. I have good days and bad days and have realized that I’d rather fit movement into my day when it feels right than completely avoid it and feel frustrated. I exercise when I want to and chill when I realize that the desire to exercise comes from an unhealthy place.

I’m looking forward to lacing up my running shoes again some day but at this point I’m choosing to be grateful for the mental work taking a break from running has forced me to do.

Follow along with more of my musings on instagram @abalancedpaceRD


If you’re an active women who resonates with any part of what I’m saying, check out The Lane 9 Project for a welcoming and supportive group of new friends who know what it feels like to be lost, confused, or betrayed by food and exercise. As an ambassador for the program in Boston, I’ll be organizing monthly meet-ups and would love to get to know you and have more real-talk conversation in person. We don’t need to go at this alone.

The Lane 9 Project Medium: https://medium.com/lane-9-project
The Lane 9 Project Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Lane9Project/
The Lane 9 Project – Boston: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1976977182576604/

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Loco For Coco(nut oil)

Is coconut oil healthy?

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After the most recent advisory report released by the American Heart Association (which addressed a wide array of dietary fats, not just coconut oil), you or your friends might be rethinking your assumptions when it comes to the buttery tropical fat.

I’ve already seen many people simply rejecting the newly released statement because it is pretty shocking and very much NOT what the health food industry has been selling us for years.

Coconut oil is supposed to be a miracle food – keeping us young, our skin glowing, and our arteries inflammation-free. Right?!

While the American Heart Association has come under scrutiny for its demonization of saturated fat that was largely behind our catastrophic adoption of trans fat, margarine and sugar-filled (but fat free!) processed foods, it is still one of the biggest, most highly regarded and influential health organizations in the country. Respect the information it makes public.

Critics of the article will complain that it does not contain any new research. This is not itself really a weakness in the article as much as it’s a weakness in what we’ve let the health food industry ignore. Coconut oil has always been shown to increase cholesterol. (Source, Source) It has always had more saturated fat than butter.

But now we do have a bit more of a nuanced understanding of the role of fat, particularly saturated fat, in our diets and how it affects our bodies. It is, unfortunately, not simple.

Some saturated fat, it seems, is not so bad.

Most of the time, eating other types of fat instead of saturated fat is better.

Usually, when we are avoiding saturated fat we are eating refined carbohydrates, which might be worse.

Quick lesson on fats:

Fat exists in molecules containing three fatty acids: so-called triglycerides. The fatty acids on each triglyceride range in length from short, to medium, to long. When the fatty acids are bendy because of double bonds in the carbon chain (the part that can be either long or short) they are called unsaturated and don’t fit tightly together. This is why we find oils, filled with unsaturated fat, liquid at room temperature. When fatty acids contain no double bonds, the carbons are bonded in a straight line and it’s easier for them to stack together in a sturdy piece – this is saturated fat and it’s why butter, beef fat, and cheese is solid.

Now what about chain length? Well, it all relates to how those fatty acids are absorbed into our body and used. Our bodies use fat for MANY reasons: cell membrane structure (hello skin), hormone production, happy environments for our neurons, transport and storage of essential nutrients like vitamin A, D, E and K, and production of energy (all those carbons!). Before they can do any of these things, they must get into our blood stream. Short (we don’t get many short chain fats from our diet, mostly these are produced by bacteria in our gut from fiber!) and medium chain fats are directly absorbed through the intestinal lining, and can be shuttled directly for use in the cells. Long chain fatty acids must be incorporated into a transport molecule called a chylomicron (a predecessor to cholesterol), and delivered to the liver first. It is this distinction that has isolated coconut oil as a potentially “healthier” fat, because of it’s higher-than-average concentration of medium chain fats.

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But, coconut oil isn’t 100% medium chain fatty acids. Most of the studies looking at the different health effects of medium chain fats have used MCT (medium chain triglyceride) oil, which does not contain any of the other types of saturated fatty acids that coconut oil does.

There is definitely a lack of research looking at the use of coconut oil as a fat in the diet, specifically. If there were more to look at, it would likely be as inconclusive as much other nutrition research looking at the effects of single foods, because at the end of the day, it’s about the bigger picture (read: what else you’re eating with your coconut oil).

But the stuff that IS out there is pretty clear –> coconut oil seems to raise LDL cholesterol like other saturated fats. LDL has been the target of cardiologists for decades because of its apparent association for the risk of heart disease. LDL is more inflammatory than HDL cholesterol, and the more LDL you have, combined with other sources of inflammation (stress, poor insulin sensitivity/high blood sugar, allergies and illness), the worse off your arteries will be.

That’s definitely a simplification, and there is still a lot we are discovering about the nuances of cholesterol and if it is truly a good predictor of heart disease. We still know that high HDL seems to be a good thing, and high triglycerides seem to be a bad thing, but high LDL doesn’t seem to always predict heart disease like we thought it did for so long.

In the mean time, we need to understand that we aren’t eating fats in isolation. A fat in and of itself is neither healthy nor unhealthy. WE are either healthy or unhealthy. We can choose to protect our health by thinking about the bigger picture.

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Dried coconut on a super-satisfying bowl of sweet potato porridge with nuts, seeds and berries

What does our whole diet look like? We can choose to eat butter on top of vegetables or on top of pancakes. We can top a veggie scramble with cheese or drown our pasta in Alfredo sauce. We can put coconut oil in our black bean brownies.

Populations that consume coconut oil regularly are also usually those with a largely vegetable-based diet, low in animal fats and dairy. The more plants in your diet, the better your health, research shows. So this in itself is protective of health, and the amount of saturated fat in the coconut oil doesn’t seem to be enough to counteract that effect. Zip over to Western civilization and you will not find the same plant-based diet. Adding coconut oil to your coffee in the morning, unfortunately, probably won’t offset the cheese on your hamburger at lunch or your pepperoni pizza at dinner.

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Dried coconut on a warming bowl of breakfast quinoa with alllll the berries and almonds from Mother Juice

If you enjoy coconut oil, no need to cut it out entirely. Just realize you are eating a saturated fat. I’m all for everything in moderation. All foods fit, including coconut oil and butter and cheese. Personally, I don’t typically include coconut oil in my diet. I find it expensive and I prefer whole milk yogurt, cheese, nuts & seeds and avocados. Eat whatever makes your food more satisfying and enjoyable – fats like coconut oil might make you feel more full during the day. Eat them with your whole grains, your starchy vegetables, your rainbow of fresh produce and your proteins of choice. Just like no one food is going to be the root of all of our problems, no one food will cure us of them either. While I’m not wholly against or for the AHA report on coconut oil, I am thankful that it is out there. Let us be reminded that foods are not healthy or unhealthy – we are made better or worse off because of the ways we eat them, and balance, while unsexy, is k-e-y.

 

It’s not a goodbye…

Running and I are taking a break.

Not breaking up, not divorcing, no one is moving out.

We are just going to be giving each other some space.

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After finishing the Maine Coast Half Marathon with a personal PR and feeling the strongest I’ve ever felt during a race, this sucks. I’ve been back and forth and on various stages of the grieving cycle regarding this decision but I know deep down it’s one that needs to be made. Since devoting much of my life to running (hello, I made a blog and turned down multiple nights of pizza for it) taking a step back is far from easy. Running has unsuspectedly become so much a part of my identity that looking at a summer without it is almost like looking at my reflection without a nose. Still recognizable, but odd – and kinda freaking scary.

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Feeling strong running 13.1

You’re probably confused. No kidding! I haven’t been super transparent on the blog about my personal history. You can read a snapshot that I wrote of it here, for The Lane 9 Project. Sparknotes version: I haven’t had a natural period (one that came without the help of some kind of birth control) since I was ~16. That’s almost 10 years at this point. Though I know I reached a healthy weight in college and had what I’d consider a normal relationship to food and exercise, there’s no way for me to know if I would have been getting a period at that time. Sparing actual numbers for the sake of NUMBERS AREN’T IMPORTANT, I ultimately weigh 20 pounds less than I did when I graduated college in 2014. Over the course of ~3 years, I’ve slowly and steadily been underfueling. That was a hard pill to swallow, but explains a lot when thinking about why it’s taken so long for my cycle to come back.

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Celebrating PR’s at the Maine Coast Half

Amenorrhea is gaining traction in the media. (See HERE, HERE and HERE) Or at least it seems like it is. I joined The Lane 9 Project because I identified with its mission, have listened to podcasts featuring Dr. Nicola Rinaldi, author of the book No Period Now What, and have been following Tina Muir on her journey to get her period back to start a family with her husband. I found Robyn’s blog and she became a huge role model for me.

I had no idea amenorrhea was common. I thought I was an anomaly – some girl with a crazy irregular cycle that would have to endure the rest of her life with no real certainty whether or not she’d be able to have kids of her own. No one I knew seemed to be struggling with this, and we were all bandaged with birth control so it wasn’t on my radar for many years, either.

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Eno River State Park, North Carolina

Hypothalamic Amenorrhea (HA) is a condition in which a women’s reproductive system, namely the menstrual cycle, shuts down because the body does not prioritize making babies when it only has enough energy to keep all other vital systems running. A combination of energy deficiency (eating too few calories for the amount of activity or calories burned), sleep deficiency, chronic stress and overexercise catapult the body into a frantic “survival” state in which non-essential systems are shut down in favor of shuttling any available energy to those that truly keep us alive.

Why is it important to maintain a cycle? I have had multiple doctors tell me that I’m probably fine. That I don’t need to try to get my period back until I want to start having kids. I took the bait for years. But always wondered, “why?” Why should I settle for one of my body’s systems not functioning correctly? I had most of my hormones checked, and since they were within the normal (super wide) ranges, my physicians assumed I was fine. Funnily enough, I never had my estrogen checked until this year. What do you know? It was crazy low.

Symptoms of low estrogen via Healthline

  • painful sex due to a lack of vaginal lubrication
  • an increase in urinary tract infections (UTIs) due to a thinning of the urethra
  • irregular or absent periods
  • mood swings
  • hot flashes
  • breast tenderness
  • headaches or accentuation of pre-existing migraines
  • depression
  • trouble concentrating
  • fatigue

HA doesn’t just show up when a women drops into the underweight BMI zone. According to Dr. Rinaldi, she’s found that most women maintain their cycles at a BMI of 22-24, but everyone is different. Some women will lose their period at a higher BMI, some will maintain it at a lower one. Everyone tolerates a different level of exercise. There are thin marathoners who have kids – we all see this.

I just turn out to be someone who is particularly sensitive. Whether to stress, lack of sleep, overexercise, or undernutrition it’s not exactly clear. In some way, I think I’ve been experiencing all of this since I moved to Boston for my dietetic internship. I’ve pushed myself to work hard, talked about the benefits of sleep but pushed it aside in favor of building my portfolio and network. I used running as a means to escape and re-charge, but ultimately probably only made it harder for my body to rest.

I’m on a mission to get my menstrual cycle back (inspired by others like Brittany and Robyn), and I’m starting with running. I’m hoping that it’s not a forever goodbye. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to slow down, fuel myself properly, let my body realize that I’m not under attack and that it can devote energy to ALL my body systems. Then, I’m hoping I can start running (or doing intense exercise in general) again – while prioritizing sleep, recovery days, and always always always fueling properly.

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Pomegranate and Mimosa Donuts, The Holy Donut, Portland, ME

I’ve spent a good part of the last (few) month(s) generating mental lists like this and forging battles between the shoulds and should-nots.

Reasons Why I Should Take A Break

  1. I haven’t had a real period since high school. My just-measured estrogen levels are lower than that of a women in menopause and there is no sign that it’s going to return to normal unless something gives.
  2. Even though I’ve healed my relationship with food I can’t argue away the fact that I’m still 20 pounds lighter than my college-aged self and that ultimately reflects the fact that I’ve been burning more energy, however slowly, than I’ve been taking in.
  3. There’s no denying I live a stressful life, and running/training placed additional stressors on that, even though it made me feel good in certain respects I hardly let my body have a chance to “come down” for an extended period of time.
  4. I know I’m injury-prone, and I should devote more time to strengthening other parts of my running system besides the lace-up-and-run part.
  5. The fact that I’m so torn up about simply taking a BREAK seems to indicate that I’m using running for more than just joyful movement. I am hesitant to identify any habit as an addiction, per se, but I know I sometimes feel compulsive about running, have ignored a few rest days or had a little too much emphasis on the “active” part of active rest for the balance to be surely weighted in the direction of more is better. My logical self knows more is not always better.

Reasons Why I Shouldn’t

  1. Physically, I feel great. I am at the weight I always dreamed of and it’s comfortable for me. I KNOW I shouldn’t be motivated by the appearance of my physical body but it’s still a fear barrier that stands in the way of taking a step back. Something I will need to work on.
  2. I just joined the Oiselle Volee this year and was excited to become more a part of that running community. I know I can still be involved while running less, but it’s hard to make myself believe it would still be as fun.
  3. I freaking love running – it’s so accessible and simple and my favorite way to jaunt around Boston, especially in the summer. I feel so accomplished after a good run, and love pushing myself to become a better, stronger runner.
  4. What’s the point of trying to get my period back, anyway? It’s not like I’m trying to get pregnant any time soon. At least birth control sort of puts a bandaid on my low estrogen levels and prevents my bones from totally eating themselves away. Thinking about gaining weight as providing nourishing ground for a baby to grow isn’t exactly motivating now, though having kids EVENTUALLY is one of the main reasons I want to avoid infertility.

Disturbed my the mental war zone? Inner arguments like this were a constant during the worst of my eating disorder and even as I moved into recovery. Constantly battling, coming up with reasons why and just as quickly a reason why not. Letting fear hold the steering wheel for a little too long. Thankfully, my logic muscle is stronger now. I can step back and realize when something is not healthy – not serving its intended purpose in my life.

Even now, as I go back and read through the posts I wrote during my marathon training season last summer, I see a recurring theme: power through it. You are stronger than you know. Get through the mud. Work. Work. Work.

I never told myself to slow down, or even allowed that to happen. Rest days were written in to my schedule and I probably abided by one or two of them as they were truly intended.

Now more than ever it’s time to give myself a break. For my own health. For my future.

It’s a see you later.

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Shipyard Brewing Co., Portland, ME

If you identify with anything here, I highly recommend joining the conversation with The Lane 9 Project ladies. We would love to have you, support you, and walk with you (literally). I will be hosting events in the Boston area as an ambassador, but am happy and proud to come alongside any women in similar shoes as we rediscover and embrace our true strength.

Email me: hannahmeier25@gmail.com

 

And We’re Back.

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WELL I have been altogether MIA from this dear blog for far too long. The culprit? Grad school and 3 part time jobs + an internship .. aye aye aye. Good things on the horizon, though. I am officially done with the spring 2017 semester…. Until the end of May, when summer classes start. Anything to rack up those credits and get my cap and gown (and MS) a little quicker.

Though I have not been able to keep up with posting here as much, I have still been writing. For class, and for fun.

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Incase you missed it, I was so inspired by the work of the Lane 9 Project ladies at creating a community of support for active women affected by amenorrhea, disordered eating, and women’s health in general, that I decided it was time I shared my story. I’ve never really shared too much of my evolving relationship with food and how I was once in a very dark place. Much more on how my framework of mind and nutrition philosophy has evolved on the blog soon.

I’ve decided to dedicate this year to myself. Getting fully in-tune with eating and living intuitively. I am committed to getting my period back, for real, no birth control required. I probably won’t be fulling blogging the journey, as I want to keep some of this private, but I have no problem stepping up and acknowledging my imperfections, that I have ignored them for too long, and that it’s finally time to step up and take responsibility for my body and my TRUE health–> not someone else’s idea of what my health should be. Going to be doing a lot of reflection about what is best for me, hopefully getting a therapist to hash all of this out, and really digging deep for authentic self care. Anyone else want to join me on a journey of the same?

More news! I’ll be serving as the co-editor for the Friedman Sprout next year! Woohoo! So excited to be involved in pulling together Friedman’s bright minds and big ideas to keep the sharing of stories going. This month, I contributed a fun article about spring sports nutrition featuring everyone’s favorite auburn tuber, the SWEET POTATO. Cliche? Maybe. Tasty? Definitely. Read the original article HERE

That’s all for now, dear blog. My brain is tired and my body needs rest. I’m going to be doing a lot of THAT this weekend. What about you?

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5 Reasons the Whole30 is Not the Anti-Diet It Claims to Be

This post is also an article I wrote for my grad school’s student-managed newsletter, The Friedman Sprout, and is also published on their website. Head on over there to read more nutrition folks’ writing about topics they’re passionate about, from policy to agriculture to delicious recipes. I am among a wealth of talent and experience at Tufts, that’s for sure!

————- Published March 1st, 2017 ————-

I’m calling it: 2017 is the year of the non-diet.

As a dietitian who ardently discourages short-term dieting, I was thrilled to read many articles posted around the new year with titles like “Things to Add, Not Take Away in 2017,” and “Why I’m Resolving Not to Change This Year.” Taking a step more powerful than simply abstaining from resolution season, influencers like these authors resolved to embrace the positive, stay present, and not encourage the cycle of self-loathing that the “losing weight” resolutions tend to result in year after year.

Right alongside these posts, though, was an overwhelming amount of press exonerating the Whole30—a 30-day food and beverage “clean eating” diet.

The founders of the Whole30, however, adamantly claim it is not a diet. Even though participants are advised to “cut out all the psychologically unhealthy, hormone-unbalancing, gut-disrupting, inflammatory food groups for a full 30 days” (including legumes, dairy, all grains, sugar, MSG, and additives like carrageenan), followers are encouraged to avoid the scale and focus on learning how food makes them feel rather than how much weight they gain or lose.

But our culture is still hungry for weight loss. The possibility of losing weight ahead of her sister’s wedding was “the deciding factor” for my friend Lucy (name changed for privacy), who read the entire Whole30 book cover to cover, and fought her “sugar dragon” for 30 days in adherence to the Whole30 protocol (only to eat M&M’s on day 31, she admits).

“Whole30 focuses on foods in their whole forms which is positive for people who are learning how to incorporate more unprocessed foods in their diet,” Allison Knott, registered dietitian explains. “However, the elimination of certain groups of foods like beans/legumes and grains may have negative health implications if continued over the long-term.”

Diets like these trick consumers into thinking they are forming a healthier relationship with food. Though weight loss is de-emphasized, a trio of restriction, fear, and control are in the driver’s seat and could potentially steer dieters toward a downward, disordered-eating .

I still think 2017 is the year of the non-diet, but before we get there we need to unmask the Whole30 and call it what it is: an unsustainable, unhealthy, fad diet.

 

1: It is focused on “can” and “cannot”

The Whole30 targets perfectly nutritious foods for most people (grains, beans and legumes, and dairy) as foods to avoid entirely, relegating them to the same level of value as boxed mac and cheese, frozen pizza, and Kool-Aid. And most bodies are perfectly capable of handling these foods. They provide a convenient, affordable, and satisfying means of getting calcium, vitamin D, potassium, phosphorus, and nutrient-dense protein. The Whole30 eliminates almost all the plant-based protein options for vegans and vegetarians. While the point of eliminating these foods, creators Hartwig and Hartwig explain, is to reduce inflammation and improve gut health, nowhere in the book or website do they provide scientific studies that show removing grains, beans and dairy does this for most people. But we’ll get to that later.

The Whole30 also instructs that participants not eat any added sugar or sweeteners (real or artificial), MSG (monosodium glutamate, a flavor enhancer that has been weakly linked to brain and nervous system disruption), or carrageenan (a thickener derived from seaweed and is plentiful in the world of nut milks and frozen desserts; conflicting evidence has both suggested and refuted the possibility that it is associated with cancer and inflammatory diseases), sulfites (like those in wine), or alcohol. Not even a lick, as they are very clear to explain, or you must start the entire 30-day journey from the beginning once more.

“I couldn’t go longer than 30 days without a hit of chocolate,” Lucy told me, explaining why she was dedicated to following the program exactly.

Why take issue with focusing on “good” and “bad,” “can” and “cannot” foods? As soon as a moral value is assigned, the potential for establishing a normal relationship to food and eating is disrupted. “The diet encourages following the restrictive pattern for a solid 30 days. That means if there is a single slip-up, as in you eat peanut butter (for example), then you must start over. I consider this to be a punishment which does not lend itself to developing a healthy relationship with food and may backfire, especially for individuals struggling with underlying disordered eating patterns,” Knott argues.

How will a person feel on day 31, adding brown rice alongside their salmon and spinach salad after having restricted it for a month? Likely not neutral. Restrictive dietary patterns tend to lead to overconsumption down the road, and it is not uncommon for people to fall back in to old habits, like my friend Lucy. “People often do several Whole30 repetitions to reinforce healthier eating habits,” she explained.

Knott relates the diet to other time-bound, trendy cleanses. “There’s little science to support the need for a “cleansing diet,” she says. “Unless there is a food intolerance, allergy, or other medical reason for eliminating food groups then it’s best to learn how to incorporate a balance of foods in the diet in a sustainable, individualized way.”

While no one is arguing that consuming less sugar, MSG and alcohol are unsound health goals, making the message one of hard-and-fast, black-and-white, “absolutely don’t go near or even think about touching that” is an unsustainable, unhealthy, and inflexible way to relate to food for a lifetime.

2: It requires a lot of brainpower

After eight years of existence, the Whole30 now comes with a pretty widespread social-media support system. There is plenty of research to back up social support in any major lifestyle change as a major key to success. Thanks to this, more people than ever before (like my friend Lucy, who participated alongside her engaged sister) can make it through the 30 days without “failing.”

But the Whole30 turns the concept of moderation and balance on its head. Perfection is necessary and preparation is key. Having an endless supply of chopped vegetables, stocks for soups, meat, and eggs by the pound and meals planned and prepared for the week, if not longer, is pretty much required if you don’t want to make a mistake and start over. The Whole30 discourages between-meal snacking, (why?) and cutting out sugar, grains, and dairy eliminates many grab-and-go emergency options that come in handy on busy days. So, dieters better be ready when hunger hits.

Should the average Joe looking to improve his nutrition need to scour the internet for “compliant” recipes and plan every meal of every day in advance? While the Whole30 may help those unfamiliar with cooking wholesome, unprocessed meals at home jumpstart a healthy habit, learning about cooking, especially for beginners, should be flexible. It doesn’t have to come with a rule book. In fact, I think that’s inviting entirely too much brain power that could be used in so many other unique and fulfilling ways to be spent thinking, worrying, and obsessing about food. Food is important, but it is only one facet of wellness. The Whole30 seems to brush aside the intractable and significant influence of stress in favor of a “perfect” diet, which may or may not be nutritionally adequate, anyway.

The language used by Whole30 creators to rationalize the rigidity of the diet could make anyone feel like a chastised puppy in the corner. “It’s not hard,” they say, and then proceed to compare its difficulty to losing a child or a parent. Okay, sure, compared to a major life stressor, altering one’s diet is a walk in the park. But changing habits is hard work that requires mental energy every single day. Eating, and choosing what to eat, is a constant battle for many people and it doesn’t have to be. Life is hard enough without diet rules. The last thing anyone needs is to transform a natural and fulfilling component of it (read: food) into a mental war zone with contrived rules and harsh consequences.

3: It is elitist

When was the last time you overheard a stranger complain about healthy eating being expensive? Most likely, the protester was envisioning a diet akin to the Whole30. Grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, clarified butter, organic produce…no dry staples like beans, rice or peanut butter. Healthy eating does not exist on a pedestal. It does not have to be expensive, but it certainly can be depending on where you choose to (or can) shop. Let’s set a few things straight: You don’t need grass-fed gelatin powder in your smoothies to be healthy. You don’t need organic coconut oil to be healthy. You don’t need exotic fruits and free-range eggs to be healthy. Maybe these foods mean more than just nutrition, signifying important changes to be made within our food system. But it terms of nutrition, sometimes the best a person can do for himself and his family is buy conventional produce, whole grains in bulk, and Perdue chicken breast on sale because otherwise they would be running to the drive thru or microwaving a packet of ramen noodles for dinner. A diet like the Whole30, which emphasizes foods of the “highest quality,” does nothing more than shame and isolate those who can’t sustain the standard it imposes, further cementing their belief that healthy eating is unattainable.

 

4: It is socially isolating

Imagine with me: I am participating in the Whole30 and doing great for the first week eating fully compliant meals. Then comes the weekend, and “oh no” it’s a football weekend and all I want to do is relax with my friends like I love to do. For me, that typically involves a beer or two, shared appetizers (even some carrots and celery!) and lots of laughs. The Whole30 creators would likely laugh in my face and tell me to suck it up for my own good and just munch on the veggies and maybe some meatballs. (“But are those grass-fed and did you use jarred sauce to make them? I bet there’s a gram of sugar hiding in there somewhere.”)

But it is just a month—certainly anyone can abstain from these type of events for a mere 30 days (remember, “it’s not hard”)—but then what? Do you just return to your normal patterns? Or do you, more likely, go back to them feeling so cheated from a month of restraint that you drink and eat so much more than you might have if you’d maintained a sense of moderation?

Of course, there are people comfortable with declining the food-centric aspect of social life, for whom turning down a glass of wine with cheese in favor of seltzer and crudités is no big deal. And perhaps our social events have become a bit too food centric, anyway. Either way, using food rules to isolate one’s self from friends and family sounds an awful lot like the pathway to an eating disorder, and the sense of deprivation most people likely feel in these situations can snowball into chronic stress that overshadows any short-term, nutrition-related “win.”

Although, maybe we should get all our friends to drink seltzer water and eat crudités at football games.

 

5: It is not scientifically sound

Most of The Whole30’s success has come from word of mouth, stories, and endorsements from those who successfully made it through the program and felt “better” afterwards. The website, dismayingly, does not house a single citation or study referenced in creation of the diet.

It’s important to note that the Whole30 did not exist 20 years ago. The Whole30 is not a pattern of eating that is replicated in any society on earth, and it doesn’t seem to be based off any research suggesting that it is indeed a superior choice. At the end of the day, this is a business, created by Sports Nutritionists (a credential anyone can get by taking an online test, regardless of one’s background in nutrition—which neither of them has) part of the multi-billion-dollar diet industry. Pinpointing three major food groups as causing inflammation and hormonal imbalance is quite an extreme statement to make without any research to back it up.

What does the science actually show? Knott, who counsels clients in her Tennessee-based private practice reminds us that, “consuming a plant-based diet, including grains and beans/legumes, is known to contribute to a lower risk for chronic disease like heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Grains and beans/legumes are a source of fiber, protein, and B vitamins such as folate. They’re also a source of phytochemicals which may play a role in cancer prevention.”

The Whole30 proposes eliminating grains because they contain phytates, plant chemicals that reduce the absorbability of nutrients like magnesium and zinc in our bodies. While it’s true that both grains and legumes contain phytates, so do certain nuts and some vegetables allowed on the diet, like almonds. It is possible to reduce the amount of phytates in an eaten food by soaking, sprouting, or fermenting grains and legumes, but research from within the last 20 years suggests that phytates may actually play a key role as antioxidants. In a diverse and balanced diet, phytates in foods like grains and legumes do not present a major micronutrient threat. Further, new findings from Tufts scientists provide more that whole grains in particular improve immune and inflammatory markers related to the microbiome.

Legumes in the Whole30 are eliminated because some of their carbohydrates aren’t as well-digested and absorbed in the small intestine. Some people are highly sensitive to these types of carbohydrates, and may experience severe digestive irritation like excessive gas, bloating, constipation, etc. Strategies such as the FODMAP approach are used with these folks under professional supervision to ensure they continue to get high-quality, well-tolerated fiber in their diets, and only eliminate those foods which cause distress. For others, elimination of these types of carbohydrates is unsound. Undigested fibers like those in legumes are also known as prebiotics, and help to feed the healthy bacteria in our gut. Eliminating this beneficial food group to improve gut health goes directly against the growing base of scientific evidence surrounding the microbiota.

Dairy, for those without an allergy or intolerance, has been shown to provide many benefits when incorporated into a balanced and varied diet, including weight stabilization and blood sugar control. The diet also fails to recognize the important health benefits associated with fermented dairy products like yogurt.

In terms of the diet’s long-term sustainability, Knott adds, “There’s plenty of research to support that restrictive diets fail. Many who adopt this way of eating will likely lose weight only to see it return after the diet ends.”

 

Let’s not forget its few redeeming qualities

For everything wrong with the Whole30, there are a few aspects of the diet that should stick. The concept of getting more in touch with food beyond a label, reducing added sugars, and alcohol is a good one and something that everyone should be encouraged to do. Focusing on cooking more from scratch, relying less on processed foods, and learning about how food influences your mood and energy levels are habits everyone should work to incorporate into a healthy life.

Knott agrees, adding, “I do like that the diet emphasizes the importance of not weighing yourself. We know that weight is a minor piece to the puzzle and other metrics are more appropriate for measuring health such as fitness, lean muscle mass, and biometric screenings.”

Improving the nutritional quality of your diet should not eliminate whole food groups like dairy, grains, and legumes. It should not have a time stamp on its end date, and rather, should be a lifelong journey focusing on flexibility, moderation, and balance. Lower your intake of processed foods, sugars, and alcohol and increase the variety of whole foods. Et voilà! A healthy diet that won’t yell at you for screwing up.

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Thanks to Allison Knott MS, RDN, LDN for contributing expertise. Knott is a private practice dietitian and owner of ANEWtrition, LLC based in Tennessee. She graduated from the Nutrition Communications program at Friedman in 2012.

Presidents Day Thoughts

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Good morning, friends!

Sorry I have been absent for over a month now. Life did it’s funny thing where you think you’re super comfortable and happy and then it pulls out the rug from under your feet and you wind up on your butt, sore, and wondering how to stand back up.

Not going to get super detailed here, but suffice it to say I’m finally feeling like I’m finding my way back to a routine and getting back to a happy place.

I also turned 25 recently, and after a quarter century, decided to ring it in with some fun

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Doors have been opening, and I recently started working for a wonderful little food company in Boston you may have heard of: 88 Acres. They (we?) make small-batch granola bars that are nut-free, gluten-free, dairy-free and basically safe for most people with common food allergies. They also make a “seednola” from unused edge pieces of the bars, and specialty seed butters (chocolate sunflower, vanilla spice sunflower and pumpkin seed). 88 Acres is very responsible about sourcing and makes sure that all the ingredients come from single-crop distributors to prevent cross-contamination. 88 Acres is all about the seeds, using a blend of pumpkin, sunflower and coarse-ground flax seeds as the base of their products. It’s been very interesting in the short time I’ve been there to learn about scaling a small business with big goals, working with labeling and thinking about the future of food and added sugar claims, etc. What am I doing for them? They want to build out the nutrition library on their website to serve as a resource for their consumers, so I’ll be adding to that with blog posts and topic pages. I’m also establishing a firmer partnership between the brand and registered dietitians, because 88 Acres is serious about offering a nutritious, YUMMY option for people with restrictive diets and wants RD’s to be able to refer to them as a trusted brand in their wheelhouse. If you’re a dietitian and want to learn more about 88 Acres products, send me an email and we can get the ball rolling 🙂

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True hill running takes Maine Mountains (Pictured at Sugarloaf Mountain in ME)

Other things on my mind: to train or not to train for marathon #2. For so long, it was a no-brainer. Of course I’d sign up for another marathon. I had my eyes on the Twin Cities Marathon because the timing seemed perfect, the course seemed perfect, and I’d be able to get another trip home out of the deal. But as registration opening inched closer, I started to reconsider. Do I really have enough time to train for a marathon? These days I’m barely home enough to cook a solid dinner. With 3+ jobs and part-time school, I’m pulled in a lot of different directions and having flexibility with my workouts has been essential. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to add on one more big thing to my plate. Because training for a marathon is a big thing, and this time around, I know I’d want to take it seriously – get faster, get smarter, run better.

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Made history on January 21st in the Boston Common to march for women, science, facts, and common decency

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So on February 2nd, I didn’t sign up. I had until February 6th until the price increased, but I still haven’t signed up. I’ve been getting more comfortable with the idea of sticking to half marathons this year. 2017: the year of 13.1. I feel like I can PR this year if I keep my goals focused. I’m still working with Heather and have a training plan coming my way very soon to begin training for the Maine Coast Half Marathon in May, which I convinced a few Boston pals to train for and run with me.

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I just haven’t been running very much. 5-6 miles feels long, and satisfying, and if I went any longer I still feel like I’m risking injury. Probably because I’m not really running consistently. I think the major difference is that when I was training for the marathon over the summer, I would be running almost every day for about 30 minutes at least. That kept my legs used to the work of running, so when I headed out for longer runs on the weekend it wasn’t such a huge thing. Off-season has been weird. I feel like I took too much time off but then again never really got back on. I’ve been cycling a lot at the indoor studio I work at because it’s convenient. I did a 30-day yoga workshop in January and really stepped up my namaste game. Now, I’m trying to balance everything out with more strength and resistance training, especially since my IT band (I think) has been whining and I want to nip that in the bud as soon as possible.

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Miss You

So, next steps include getting new running shoes, breaking them in, and getting back on the training plan bandwagon. I am looking forward to having more to be accountable to – to stick to a schedule and train smart, since without a schedule I tend to mess things up for myself.

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Turmeric Rice Pudding

turmericI’m not sure if this qualifies as a recipe or just a fun idea for using up leftover rice, but either way it makes a delicious snack and was particularly wonderful on this gloomy New England Wednesday.

Sidenote -> the weather here in Boston is throwing me off so much. It cycles between freezing and 60 and sunny within a week, and now we’re facing a week of January rain. There is nothing more depressing to me than January rain. I am obviously not built for the pacific northwest (which is what I fear New England is turning in to with all this global climate change).

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Turmeric is gaining speed in the food and health world these days thanks to it’s solid reputation as an immune-boosting and inflammation-reducing herb. Turmeric is a primary component of curry powder, and its yellow tint, which comes from the antioxidant component called curcumin, is not only great at staining fingers but coloring foods. It’s actually now used as the primary coloring agent in Kraft Macaroni and Cheese– go figure!

It’s been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine to treat illnesses such as pain, fatigue and rheumatism, and is commonly taken as a supplement today to treat inflammation, arthritis, stomach, liver and gallbladder conditions, among others. Few strong scientific studies have indicated that turmeric actually reduces inflammation in the human body, though like any nutrient or plant chemical, but remember it’s hard for even the strongest and most well-designed studies to truly prove cause and effect. More research is always warranted in the field of nutrition, and there’s lots currently happening with this lovely yellow spice.

Some interesting things in the literature that have been associated with turmeric intake:

  • Reduced number of heart attacks after bypass surgery
  • Controlled osteoarthritic knee pain as effectively as ibuprofen
  • Reduced skin irritation after radiation treatments for breast cancer

The University of Maryland Medical Center has a great resource available of the current Turmeric research in case you’re interested in learning more.

Personally, I love the color that turmeric provides. I find that it has a very mild flavor and gives food just a little bit of smokiness and warmth. For this recipe, I added about a teaspoon of turmeric to the water that I cooked the brown rice in, but you could also add the turmeric to the rice after it is cooked. I used leftover rice to make this, but you could verywell cook up a batch of rice just to make this darn recipe if you so please.

This quick little recipe is a great pre-workout snack to have about 1 hour-45 minutes before activity. The rice and dates provide a quick source of carbohydrates, while the nuts and cinnamon will help to buffer an intense spike in blood sugar and sustain that energy out for a longer duration during a workout. Use brown rice to get the full benefit of the grain, but white rice can be helpful if wanting to limit fiber (ie. right before a run or long workout). Shorter grain rice is better at soaking up liquids and makes more of a pudding-like consistency when cooked here, but all grain lengths will work.

This would also be a delicious side dish to some baked chicken or curry-spiced fish. I might even have it with my leftover peanut stew for dinner tonight.

Ingredients for one serving

  • 1/2 cup cooked brown rice (I cooked mine in turmeric. If you didn’t, add about 1/2 teaspoon to the rice)
  • 1 medjool date, pitted and chopped
  • 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 1/3 cup milk of choice (I used unsweetened almond milk)
  • 1.5 tablespoons chopped pecans (or nut of choice)

Mix all ingredients together in a microwave safe bowl and microwave for at least 3 minutes until milk is absorbed into rice and has softened the nuts. Fluff with a fork and enjoy!

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Step one: Add one pitted and chopped medjool date per half cup of cooked rice.

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Step two: Add a sprinkling of cinnamon to suit your taste (I like a lot of cinnamon), about 1.5 tablespoons of chopped pecans (or whatever nut you have on hand), and about 1/3 cup of almond milk (or whatever milk you have on hand)

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Step 3: Microwave for at least 3 minutes, until the milk boils and softens the rice and nuts.

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Step 4: Fluff with a fork, and enjoy!

 

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