The Appeal of Fad Diets

I remember how it felt in the early days of adopting a new diet, especially a diet that promised radiant health and effortless weightloss. Specifically veganism and paleo, though these promises are made by MANY diets out there – juicing, gluten-free, primal, keto, etc. These diets offered more than weight loss – they offered the promise of eternal health.

‘Eat like our ancestors ate, the way we evolved (or were designed) to eat! Disease is a product of our modern, western diet and lifestyle. You can avoid disease by eating the right food!’ -Fad Diet Rhetoric

I adopted the diets because I was scared. I was scared of cancer, mostly. Who isn’t? And the diets promised me control of my health. They offered freedom from cancer and other diseases. They offered reprieve from fear and worry. This is powerful stuff.

And of course, the next logical step in this thought process was that people who are sick have brought sickness upon themselves by eating the wrong foods. And the diets and diet ‘leaders’ reinforced this belief, this sense of superiority. I knew something the sick people didn’t, and I was safe, and it was their own fault they were sick. They should have eaten more [insert magic food here] and less [insert food villain here]. Thank goodness I knew the truth.

When famous people got sick, people would speculate online about what they did wrong to make themselves vulnerable to disease. Too much processed food. Too much animal food. Too much soy. Too many carbs. There was always something, some grave mistake they’d made out of their willful ignorance, their selfishness, their laziness. Because they didn’t work hard enough, they didn’t read the right books, they didn’t care enough about their health, so now they were paying the price. And of course we who knew the truth, we who had worked hard enough, we who cared about our health, were safe. We knew how to avoid disease and death. We were doing it right.

For a while, it was really very calming. I wasn’t afraid any more. I believed I had control of my health. I would remain healthy. Thank goodness I’d found the truth and was doing it right.

And it was gratifying too. I felt a little smug. I felt a little superior. The ‘masses’ may have to deal with cancer, but I would not. Because I cared about my health, and they didn’t. If they cared about their health they would eat better. They were lazy, and lazy people are the ones who get cancer.

The diets preyed on my fear of mortality. The fear of mortality that we all have. This is why the diets are so appealing. They promise protection from scary things, from pain and suffering, even from death. Much like religion. Which is why so many people defend and promote their diets with the fervor of a religious zealot. The diets offer the same thing religion does – freedom from pain and worry and death.

Except that people still get sick and die even if they eat the ‘right’ diet. Diets don’t really protect us from disease and death. They simply prey on and exploit our fears.

Fruits and vegetables are good for you. You should eat (or drink) them. Don’t starve yourself. Get some protein. Sleep well and be physically active every day. Don’t smoke. Drink alcohol in moderation (or don’t drink). Wear your seatbelt. Wear a helmet (when appropriate). Cultivate close friendships. Engage in your community. Get some sunlight every day you can. Get your mammograms and skin cancer screenings. Maintain a healthy weight. If you do these things, you can reduce your risk of many diseases. But there are no guarantees, no matter how perfectly you eat. You may still get sick. People get sick. And it is not because they did something wrong. It is because we are mortal. But we can enjoy the time we have here, and the best way to enjoy it is to do the best you can and not stress out about the things that are out of your control, and be kind to yourself and others.

The appeal of Fad Diets is that they quell our fear of mortality. Temporarily. Because we all eventually realize it’s a false promise. We get sick, or someone we love gets sick, or we just come to our senses.

How I Deal With Chronic Pain

One of the things a lot of my readers may not know about me is that I live with chronic pain. Pain was in fact one of the reasons I began exercising in 2008. I had fallen and dislocated my knee the year before, and what had been nagging but tolerable arthritis achiness in my knees until then developed into constant pain that had begun to effect my quality of life.

My doctor had told me repeatedly that exercise would be very helpful for the arthritis pain, but I hadn’t been ready to hear it. When the injury increased the level of pain I experienced, I began to be more receptive to the message. Many things culminated in 2008 to trigger a fundamental behavior change, and the pain was one of them.

I’ve talked before about the various health issues I was dealing with back then. Blood sugar issues, hormonal issues, rising blood pressure, poor lipid markers, migraines, obesity. It was a ‘perfect storm’ of chronic, nagging conditions that were beginning to effect my quality of life, and fill me with worry about my future and that of my kids. Was I setting them up for the same health issues? I was their primary female role model. The way I cared for myself would be their lifelong model of self-care. I needed to do better. Exercise was the one thing I knew would benefit me and potentially improve all those conditions, but that I’d never been able to do consistently. 2008 was when everything came together and I made the changes. Finally. And exercise was life-changing, in so many ways. Almost all the health issues I was dealing with have resolved in the years since, and I credit exercise. Unfortunately, while exercise has been immensely helpful in mitigating the pain and dysfunction, it has not ‘cured’ my arthritis. I still deal with chronic pain and stiffness. So today I’m going to share some of the ways I’ve learned to manage my pain levels so I can live a productive and enjoyable life. I still have pain, but it doesn’t have the same impact on my quality of life as it used to.

What Works

Exercise. The doctors and scientists aren’t lying when they say exercise improves arthritis symptoms. Studies show again and again that exercise improves the short term and long term experience of pain. It also improves joint strength and flexibility, and bone density. When I first started exercising I dealt with sore muscles after workouts for a while, but I began to notice that my knees didn’t hurt when I was moving, and for several hours afterward. In other words, exercise gave me an immediate, but temporary reprieve from the pain. This was motivating. Over time, I observed that my legs grew stronger and my agility and confidence increased. Climbing stairs became less painful because I learned to use my hip and thigh muscles in ways that took the pressure off my knee joint. Exercise continued to give me daily, short term pain reprieve, and increased my long term functionality and flexibility. I now use exercise as my primary ‘defense’ against pain, both in the immediate short term and as a long term hedge against continued deterioration. Lifting weights has increased my bone density and made my joints more stable. While I still experience pain, I no longer worry about falling or fear that my knees will give out. I’ve learned what I can and can’t do, and I’ve improved my confidence to do many things I used to be afraid to do.

Sleep. The difference in my pain levels is profound when I am not sleeping well. A good night’s sleep means an almost pain free day. When I am fatigued, my knees ache. I’ve learned how important it is to prioritize sleep, and recognize the difference it makes to my quality of life. It is still hard for me to shut down my mind after a busy day, but I’m working on things like turning off electronics earlier in the evening and making sure not to have caffeine later in the day, things that make it harder to fall asleep.

Pain medication. I resisted pain meds for a LONG time. I believed that resorting to pain meds was ‘weak’, and that if I just ate the right diet, I wouldn’t need meds. There’s a lot of that kind of thinking in the fad diet world. It’s a form of victim blaming. “If you have a problem, you obviously just aren’t eating clean enough. If all your problems don’t go away when you eat the ‘right’ diet, then you’re doing it wrong. Pain is caused by toxins in your food, or by gluten (I went grain fee for almost a year and there was no change in my pain levels) or by dairy or whatever other food the diet-of-the-day blamed everything on.” Two years ago, I began to sink into a depression because of my pain. It was exhausting. I recognized what was happening to me, and I talked to my doctor. She referred me to a pain expert, who helped me create a pain medication treatment plan. We didn’t get it ‘right’ immediately, it took some trial and error, but we eventually found a combination of two different pain meds in low doses that control my pain and allow me to stay active (which keeps my heart and body healthy and strong). I no longer allow myself to feel ‘guilt’ for taking medication. Seeking adequate medical treatment has improved my quality of life dramatically, made me a better mother and wife, and allowed me to engage fully in a life that I now enjoy.

Physical therapy. With the physical therapist I work with as part of my pain management program, I’ve learned new ways of sitting, standing, walking and sleeping that have decreased the level of pain I experience. I admit that for a long time I dismissed the idea of physical therapy, thinking that I was strong and already did all the exercises I needed to do. I was wrong. My physical therapist doesn’t make me do exercises – she knows I do exercises on my own. She has taught me to tune into the way I’m moving (or not moving) in my day-to-day activities that can affect my knees and my pain levels. I am glad I got over my preconceived notions about physical therapy. It has made a difference.

Massage. I’m a massage therapist so work on my own legs regularly. My thigh and calf muscles get very tight on the side I injured, and deep massage helps them relax.

What Doesn’t Work (for me)

Diet shenanigans. I tried it all. Nothing made a difference, except low carb. Low carb made it worse, I suspect because I was recovering poorly from workouts. All the other fads I tried were useless in regards to my pain levels.

Accupuncture. I tried it and didn’t notice a difference. I really enjoyed it though! It was super relaxing.

Chiropractic. Didn’t notice a difference.

‘Barefoot’ shoes. I gave these a real shot. They actually made things worse though. My knees feel better when I have cushioning to take some of the impact of walking.

What Might or Might Not Work

Supplements. I take turmeric and glucosamine on the suggestion of my doctor. I don’t know for sure if they help, but they are cheap, so I take them on the off chance they are doing something.

So there you go. There are more things for me to try. I will keep trying them. I know that some things will work and some will not. And I have found things that work already, and my life has improved because of them.

If you take nothing else from this post, please take this: It is OK to seek medical treatment. It is not ‘weakness’ to take  medication if that medication improves your quality of life and allows you to engage fully in activities that you enjoy. There is too much ‘medicine shaming’ in the fad diet community. Eating well, sleeping well and exercise can improve your life in many ways and I absolutely encourage everyone to do all three. You may be amazed at just how powerful a ‘medicine’ sleep, exercise and good food in adequate amounts can be. But sometimes there are things that sleep, exercise and good food don’t fix. And seeking treatment for those things is not weak or shameful. It can give you back your life. Do not allow yourself to be shamed out of seeking adequate and appropriate medical treatment for pain or any other condition that impacts your quality of life. Medicine shaming is one of the worst things to come out of the fad diet community. So many people are suffering needlessly.

Why you’re not losing weight on a low-calorie diet (and why eating MORE may be the answer).

For more information on the studies, be sure to click on the links below the video.

Further reading:

Danish study:

Second study:

Dr. Joshua Kern’s blog post on the subject:

Eating the Food facebook group:

Making Resolutions Stick – 10 Tips for New Years’ Success

Screen Shot 2013-12-27 at 1.39.08 PMIt’s that time of year again! When we take stock of our failures and shortcomings and resolve to do better in the new year!

Just kidding. Some people do that but I sure don’t, and I hope you guys don’t either.

It’s hard not to get caught up in the spirit of fresh starts and renewed motivation though, and those things aren’t bad at all! So if you’re taking the beginning of the new year as an opportunity to make some new goals and commitments, here are some tips for maximizing your chances of success.

1. Be realistic.

Set goals that will work with your schedule and lifestyle. Do you work full time? The time commitment involved in training for an Ironman Triathlon probably won’t work with your schedule. But a Sprint or Oly triathlon could. This seems like a no-brainer, but I think lots of us fall into the trap of biting off more than we can chew, and then getting discouraged when we aren’t able to meet our own high expectations. Discouragement tends to translate to giving up. Set yourself up for success by setting achievable goals in the short term! Succeeding will bolster our confidence and motivate you to set more goals.

2. Be specific.

We tend to make fairly vague resolutions like ‘lose weight’, ‘get in shape’ or ‘eat healthier’. Nebulous targets like this don’t provide much structure though, and are easy to veer away from. Make a specific goal like ‘lose 30 pounds’, ‘exercise 3 times a week for 40 minutes’ or ‘eat 5 servings of vegetables a day’.

3. Make a plan.

Once you have a specific goal, outline a plan to reach it. Give yourself a realistic time-frame, and work up to your goals over time!

4. Plan in steps.

Jumping right in to new behaviors can be overwhelming and exhausting. If your goals is to exercise 3 days a week for 40 minutes, start with 10 minutes twice a week and add duration over time. If it’s to eat 5 servings of vegetables a day, start with 1 or 2 servings a day and work up. Drastic, sudden changes are less likely to become habit than small, sustainable changes that compound over time.

5. Monitor your progress.

Keep a journal of your success! Track weekly or even daily to document the challenges you’ve met and overcome. Seeing your progress in this objective manner can be very motivating. We tend not to notice our progress as much subjectively, as changes happen slowly and we get used to them and don’t recognize how profoundly those small changes add up over time.

6. Be flexible.

You may hit a roadblock you can’t figure out how to overcome. Having the flexibility to alter your plan and goal will allow you to navigate challenges and roadblocks without feeling like you’ve failed. For instance, if your goal is to run a 5k, but you injure your foot, being flexible to change, rather than quit, your training to allow your foot to heal will help you maintain your cardiovascular conditioning and endurance.

7. Allow for setbacks.

Bad news. Sometimes things don’t work out as planned. Sometimes we just miss the mark. It happens. It happens to everyone! Re-framing setbacks as learning opportunities, rather than failures, keeps you on the road to success.

8. Focus more on how far you’ve come, and less on how far you still have to go.

If you’ve set a lofty goal, sometimes fixating on how much further you still have to go to meet it can feel overwhelming and discouraging. Recognizing and celebrating each success can remind you how capable you are. It may take time, but you will get there if you keep moving forward. Getting mired in frustration over the pace of your progress won’t help at all. Focus on the positive! Keep going! You’ll get there in time.

9. Enlist social support.

Seek out a supportive community to cheer you on (my Eating the Food, and Healthy Weight Loss diet recovery facebook groups, for instance!) One of the blessings of the internet age is that finding people with similar goals and interests is as easy as typing a few words into a search bar. Follow supportive people on twitter and facebook, find chat rooms and forums with relevant themes and find people locally who have similar interests. The other side of this coin is that it’s easy to get caught up with people who will try to tear you down and undermine your progress. Be aware of the way people talk to you, and remove yourself from negative situations and people. They will not help you.

10. Be patient!

I saved this one for last, because it’s not only the most important, but the hardest. Humans want what we want NOW. Being able to step back and apply patience objectively is a skill that must be learned through practice. Remind yourself that changes happen slowly over time sometimes. That doesn’t mean they are not worthwhile or profound. Patience is a superpower, and many times it is THE factor that will determine success or failure. Practice every day.

One of the most important things I’ve learned over the last several years is how fundamentally important it is to zoom out and take a more reasoned, balanced approach to behavior change. Trying to CHANGE EVERYTHING all at once rarely works out well, and expecting things to always work according to plan is a recipe for disappointment. Humans, and life, are imperfect. Take the long view, worry less and enjoy the moment more. As long as your trajectory is forward, you’ll get there eventually.

Need some ideas for reasoned and balanced approaches to behavior change? Here’s my top three ‘Resolution Suggestions’:

1. Learn to cook, or cook better.

Preparing more of your meals at home is the best way to improve the quality of your diet. Our culture has lost touch with food and food preparation in the last few decades. For many people, this means either re-learning how to cook, or completely starting from scratch. I had to change the way I thought about and prepared food when I began making changes to improve my health. I relied on watching America’s Test Kitchen on PBS and Cooking Light magazine to learn cooking skills and cookbooks like Super Natural Cooking for ideas to incorporate more fresh foods into my diet. If I were learning to cook now, I would take advantage of Smart Kitchen, an online cooking school that is available as a monthly subscription – allowing the user to pick and choose lessons at every skill level.

 2. Walk more.

It really doesn’t get simpler than walking. People underestimate the power of walking to improve health, quality of life and fitness level. Read my blog post on Walking for Health and Fitness to learn more about how powerful can be, and how to create a walking-based fitness program. Pick up a pedometer or fitbit to see how much you’re currently walking and make reasonable, sustainable changes that will dramatically improve your quality of life.

3. Get more, and better, sleep.

Most of us don’t get enough and it manifests as weight gain, illness and decreased quality of life. A few simple changes can improve the quality of your sleep, and your life. Turn off electronics an hour before bed, get some natural light early in the day, and reduce your consumption of caffeine and other stimulants later in the day. If you still struggle with insomnia, I highly recommend The Promise of Sleep by Dr. William Dement to get a handle on what may be causing it and finding resources to resolve it. Improving sleep quality may be the single most powerful change you can make to improve your health.

New Years’ can provide inspiration and motivation for making positive lifestyle changes, and stepping back and taking a sustainable approach can help ensure that those changes are successful and long-term. Small changes really do compound over time, and if you’re able to stay the course you will be able to look back next year and see just how much you’ve accomplished. 2014 is going to be a great year!


How Much Exercise is Enough? How Much is Too Much?

Everyone’s exercise tolerance and fundamental needs are going to be unique, but there are a few things we can generalize. I think there is a minimum that almost everyone will need to meet in order to be metabolically healthy, and also a point at which exercise stops being helpful and becomes harmful. Between those two points is the potential for individualization and experimentation.

How Much Do You Need?

There’s actually been quite a bit of research into the health benefits of exercise and how much exercise is necessary to experience those benefits, and currently it appears that the amount necessary to support metabolic and cardiovascular health is fairly modest. This is good news for people who have a hard time getting motivated or who don’t enjoy it, or who simply don’t have a lot of time. The current, evidence based recommendations that virtually every reputable public health agency have adopted are as follows:

  • 150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise (such as hiking or brisk walking)


  • 75 minutes a week of vigorous exercise (such as running or spinning)


  • full body resistance exercises twice a week (such as weight lifting or even yoga. These activities can be included in the 150 or 75 minutes above if they elevate your heart rate adequately).

You can meet these minimums in five 15-30 minute sessions, depending on the intensity you work at. The higher the intensity of your workout, the shorter it can (and really should) be.

For more information on how to determine the intensity of your exercise, check out my ‘Walking for Health and Fitness’ post.

How Much is Too Much?

Determining what is ‘too much’ is much less cut and dry. Clearly there are people (like Ironman Triathletes and Ultra endurance runners) who thrive on large volumes of exercise. But it is possible to exercise too hard, or too much. Overtraining is a real condition, with a pretty well defined set of symptoms, although it can be difficult to diagnose it properly.

The objective symptoms of overtraining include: changes in heart rate response, elevated cortisol after exercise, reduced reaction time and performance, and immune suppression. The subjective symptoms include: changes in mood, sleep disturbances, perception of stress and changes in self perception.

Researches have reached somewhat of a consensus regarding the classification and stages of ‘overtraining’, as follows:

Overtraining‘ is a catch-all term to describe the process of intensified training leading to decreases in performance. The first stage of overtraining is ‘Functional Overreaching‘ in which performance suffers but resolves after adequate rest. ‘Non-functional Overreaching‘ is a decrease in performance and psychological and neuro-endocrinological symptoms that resolve after adequate rest. And ‘Overtraining Syndrome‘ is a longer term decrease in performance (more than 2 months) accompanied by more severe objective and subjective symptoms of overtraining.


It is important when attempting to diagnose overtraining to rule out other psychological or physiological illnesses that could be producing these symptoms. There are MANY conditions that could be present, from endocrine disorders to nutritional deficiencies to infectious disease to eating disorders. Like other troublesome self-diagnoses (Sugar Addiction, and Adrenal Fatigue for instance) the danger in self-diagnosing and treating is that there may be a real illness present for which inaccurate self-diagnosis hinders appropriate treatment. In my opinion and experience, when a non-athlete is experiencing these symptoms it’s far more likely they’re dealing with a nutritional deficiency or an eating disorder than true overtraining. Getting proper diagnosis and treatment is vital or the problem will only get worse.

Some signs to watch for that could indicate that there could be a physiological, psychological or overtraining problem developing:

  • insomnia
  • anxiety and/or depression
  • changes in self perception
  • fatigue
  • increasing anxiety about and/or attention to your weight or body shape
  • decreases in exercise performance
  • more frequent colds and infections
  • slower recovery after exercise
  • loss of interest in workouts, decrease in enjoyment and sense of accomplishment


For the vast majority of people, allowing adequate time between workouts for recovery is all that is necessary to prevent overtraining. Your individual recovery requirements are unique, the best thing you can do is monitor your energy levels and sense of enjoyment during workouts. If you are dreading exercise you used to enjoy and counting the minutes until it is over, or feeling a lack of accomplishment after workouts that used to make you feel awesome, take a few days off, and dial back the intensity of your workouts until your enthusiasm returns.

Who Needs to Stop Exercising

In some cases, complete rest is indicated, but in my opinion these cases are pretty rare. Exercise is so fundamentally important to healthy metabolic function that I think complete rest should be reserved for those who have the clinical symptoms of overtraining,and/or those who are dealing with metabolic adaptations to starvation. People who need to completely stop exercising are sick enough that they need to be under medical supervision anyway. Most people can prevent overtraining from progressing to Overtraining Syndrome by resting adequately between workouts and reducing the intensity of their activity.

If you feel like you’re dealing with something more than a temporary bout of fatigue, or resting doesn’t improve your symptoms, see a doctor. Get a referral to an endocrinologist and/or a therapist, and get tested for the psychological and physiological effects of overtraining. And keep an open mind to the potential that it might not be overtraining, that it might be a psychological issue. Getting an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment will ensure you won’t waste time and money treating an illness you don’t have. Follow the advice of your medical professional if you find yourself dealing with these issues. As I said above, self diagnosing, or relying on an internet personality for diagnosis, puts you in danger of not getting appropriate treatment. This is a fairly big problem, as overtraining is a trendy diagnosis these days. These symptoms should not be taken lightly.

Most people will do just fine with regular, moderate activity in the form of walking, cycling, or casual social sports activities and some basic resistance exercises a few times a week. People who enjoy more vigorous forms of exercises will likewise do fine as long as they make sure to give their body proper recovery time and eat enough to support the added demands of their training.

Read More On the Topic:

American Heart Association Activity Recommendations
World Health Organization Activity Recommendations
CDC Activity Recommendations

Diagnostic Tools for Overtraining
Scientific Methods for Diagnosing Overtraining
Early Warnings of Overtraining

1811 Eastlake: Revolutionary Addiction Treatment

Guest post by Matt Stone

Many years ago I classified myself as a “sugar addict.” For nearly a decade, spanning my mid-teens to my mid-20’s, I put forth a daily struggle to consume fewer foods that I “knew” were unhealthy. I had many victories, but within a week I would almost always cave in and eat something really “unhealthy,” and would do so in ever-greater amounts. In other words, in an attempt at junk food abstinence, I set up a repeated cycle of binging, followed by starving, followed by binging again – harder and harder with each round. And each round became more frustrating and shameful. The more I failed, the more guilt, shame, and self-loathing I experienced.

So I lived with a song of self-punishment playing in the background of my life. This came to a climax at 26 when I went 44 days on a very low-sugar, low-calorie, monotonous diet while making my way through Wyoming’s most rugged and vast mountain range. “You have to work for the right to eat,” I convinced myself. “The luxuries of modern life are not to be taken for granted.” And I certainly worked very hard for very little of it – food and luxury that is.

The result? My “addiction” got worse, and I developed new addictions in the process. After the 44 depleting days I developed new addictions to coffee, tea, and chocolate in addition to my sugar addiction, which was magnified several times over. Alcohol had become a lot more exciting as well. I now ate a couple pounds of candy and chocolate and 10 cups of caffeinated tea daily. I started turning up all offers of beer instead of turning them down.

Worst of all, I felt really defeated. My attempt to break myself of my weaknesses had failed. And I felt more powerless than ever as I put away “fun size” candy bar after fun size candy bar – rarely going more than an hour without having a couple during waking hours.

Luckily I had broken myself, and really had to develop a different relationship with me. It was at that time that I started dabbling in alternative “spirituality,” and adopted the practice of diffusing feelings of guilt or self-loathing when they arose as my highest priority. When it came to sweet treats – ice cream, cakes, candy – I would smile and eat them slowly, focusing on all the flavors and textures in a very sensual manner.

And something remarkable happened. The compulsive need to eat such things completely went away. Of course, I no longer was punishing myself with hard exercise in response to my “moments of weakness,” nor was I starving myself in repentance the rest of the week. So all of this worked synergistically together to break the psychological pattern that really was at the root of the compulsion to begin with. Loving myself, choosing to enjoy the experience of eating yummy food instead of feel anxiety and guilt over it, and not consciously trying to make up for lapses in willpower through barbaric dietary strictness and “binge exercising” diffused the whole circle of addiction. It’s as if shame, guilt, and fighting or being at odds with oneself are prerequisites for the development of addiction in the first place. At the very least, this psychological pattern is a great perpetuator and strengthener of addictive tendencies.

1811 Eastlake… Seattle, Washington…

Orchestrated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, an entity whose name makes me giggle more than once, the city of Seattle embarked on an incredibly bold and revolutionary approach to dealing with its homeless alcoholic population. It built a very nice, $9 million, 75-apartment building with taxpayer money specifically for housing the homeless.

Although the move was highly controversial to begin with, it became a lot more controversial when it allowed and even subsidized the drinking of alcohol inside the building. They were effectively saying to the homeless population, “Here, come live in this nice, warm, safe apartment, staffed by a nurse 24 hours a day, and drink here with your friends and other troubled people who you can relate to instead of out in public. We’ll even make sure you have plenty to drink.”

It was a revolutionary idea, and one based on our collective understanding of human psychology and sociology instead of presumed assumptions and uncompassionate detestation of those with substance abuse problems. It was attacked for being a publicly-funded “enabler” of alcoholics of course, even though tenants were encouraged to drink less and resources were made available for treatment.

The cool thing was that it actually saved money – millions of dollars in fact. $4 million in the first year of operation alone due to decreased medical costs, reduced need for law enforcement, and a dozen other ways that were not fully expected. And, even cooler, the amount of alcohol consumed by residents steadily declined. The longer one spends at 1811 Eastlake Ave, the less he or she drinks. Some even got off the sauce completely.

And I get why this works. The community says, “We care about you and love you. You deserve a place to live. It’s bad enough you have to deal with addiction, mental illness, public humiliation, and other things frequently suffered by the homeless. The least we can do is give you a safe and comfortable place to live.”

The fact that they are allowed to drink however much they like just affirms that who they are is being completely honored. When helping someone out without asking for any change in behavior or other hoops to jump through, that help comes across as a lot more sincere. The energy behind it is totally different. It evidently worked, as they only had to invite 78 to fill their 75 rooms. That’s not many turning down the offer, unlike what would have happened if they were forced to stop drinking or work like it was some kind of enslavement.

It’s also important, as I have always argued, that working at overcoming addiction is something that comes after a foundation has been built. That’s exactly what went on at 1811 Eastlake Ave. You don’t tell a person in a truly horrendous and desperate and depressing situation that they should stop drinking. That’s like telling someone trapped in a forest of poison ivy that it’s time to break their addiction to Calamine lotion. Rather, you need to make that person feel appreciated, put a roof over their heads, give them three quality meals per day and a comfortable bed in a quiet, safe room, surround them with people they can relate to, and, ideally, give them something fulfilling to pursue. Get them out of the poison ivy forest before you take away their itch cream.

While 1811 Eastlake has probably come up a little short in terms of helping its residents find something fulfilling to pursue, it’s certainly delivered on the rest of the equation. They provide a foundation with the faith that human beings, with a strong foundation, are more likely to thrive. And they are. And even the ones who continue to drink heavily or cause trouble are still drinking less and causing less trouble than they were while living on the streets. Improvement is improvement, especially when it saves money instead of burning through it faster.

I bring all this up because a recurring theme since the 180DegreeHealth creation known as the “High-Everything Diet” was developed in 2009, is that addictive fixation on certain foods or a compulsive desire to eat them typically lessens or goes away altogether (and with the even more recent development of strict adherence to whole foods falling by the wayside this is even more true). This is a phenomenon noted elsewhere too, such as The Gabriel Method, the world of “intuitive eating,” the Health at Every Size movement, and the work of disordered eating pioneers like Geneen Roth.

Part of it is nourishing yourself well. When the body is in a nourished, restful, low stress state, the desires for various crutches decline. But something changes when your relationship with “x” addiction changes too. Tell someone that eating a certain food is bad for them and they will feel a deep yearning for that food on some level. If they indulge in the desire for that “forbidden fruit,” a strong guilt and repent cycle can form with its own, mysterious, paralyzing grip. The greater the magnitude of sinfulness of indulging in something forbidden, usually the bigger the binge. The greater the repression, the greater the escalation and perversion – an idea that obviously extends far beyond food and alcohol.

Anyway, I think what’s going on at 1811 Eastlake Ave. in Seattle is a glimpse into the future of our understanding of human behavior, addiction, and a lot more. It is a powerful example of care, compassion, and support’s ability to outgun punishment and shame in the battle to bring about a better, more synergistic and pleasant existence for all involved. This is a rare case of a win-win story, but there are a lot more where that came from if we learn from this example.

As far as how it applies to us, as individuals, it’s good to keep 1811 in the back of your mind. The person we typically treat the worst is ourselves, and it’s a valuable health lesson to break the downward circle of shame, blame, guilt, and punishment about who you are, what you’ve done, and what you’re into. Food of course, is more of the practice ground for much bigger and more important issues. But it’s a start.


This post was originally posted on Thanks to Matt for letting me repost it here! To read more of Matt’s work, visit his Amazon Store, or subscribe to his website.

5 Ways to Get More Protein

This is another question I get pretty regularly, ‘How do you/How can I get enough protein?’ Protein is important for a number of reasons, and I recommend getting a fairly ample amount, it’s one of the few diet recommendations I actually make. It’s not too hard to meet your needs if you have the right information and tools though.

Why Do You Need Protein?

First, it’s good to know why getting enough protein is so important. I’m not going to reinvent the wheel here, other people have covered this topic very well so I’ll summarize and link to a couple good articles if you want to know more. The current RDIs for protein are very modest and based on minimum needs to maintain health for sedentary individuals. Many studies have indicated that athletes, both strength and endurance, require more protein than the current RDI of 0.8 grams per kg of body weight in order to support adequate recovery and lean mass building. People on weight loss diets also need more in order to minimize loss of lean mass and promote satiety.

How Much?

It appears that amounts up to 2.6 (or more) grams per kg of body weight are beneficial for people who exercise and/or are on a weight loss diet. Many of my readers fall into one or even both of these categories. This is why I generally recommend a protein intake of one gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (which is equal to 2.2 grams per kg or body weight). To delve deeper into the science, check out this article over at and Impruvism’s awesome post on protein needs during dieting.

Here are 5 tips for ensuring you’re meeting your protein needs adequately:

1. Track your diet for a few days.

It’s entirely possible that you’re already getting enough protein. Virtually every food contains some protein, even foods we don’t normally consider protein foods. Fruits and vegetables and grains all contain small amounts of protein that can add up over the course of the day. The best way to determine if you’re meeting your needs is to keep track of your diet for a few days. You may find that you’re doing just fine and don’t need to change anything. If it turns out that you’re falling short, seeing where your protein is coming from can give you ideas for bumping that number up.

2. Eat enough food.

The easiest way to increase your protein intake is to simply increase your calorie intake. If you’re undereating (which many people are, especially women who are concerned about their weight) increasing your calorie intake will automatically increase your protein (and carb and fat) intake. Eating adequate calories can also reduce binge eating episodes, cravings, fatigue, anxiety and insomnia. Use a diet log to determine if your calorie intake is adequate. You can use this calculator to determine your calorie needs (or if you want to get even more accurate, you can geek out with a FitBit sleep and activity tracker). If you are consistently falling short, increasing your calorie intake will likely solve several issues in one fell swoop.

3. Skew portions more toward protein.

This one is easy. Don’t change what you eat, simply increase your portions sizes of protein dense foods and decrease portions of non-protein-dense foods proportionally. For instance, if your meal is chicken and rice, have a few more ounces of chicken and a few less ounces of rice, but aim for the same calorie intake. You don’t need to make drastic changes here. Simple little tweaks can make a big difference without dramatically altering the content of your diet.

4. Add protein to snacks.

Snacks tend to be where most people skimp on protein. If you tend to snack on fruit, add some cheese, yogurt, or peanuts. Hard boiled eggs are quick and easy to add to snacks. Or have a high protein bar like Almond Honey Rise Bar (20 grams of protein and only 3 ingredients: almonds, honey and whey). For convenient vegan options, I like Larabar Alt and Vega Sport products.

5. Supplement.

Of course, getting your protein from food is ideal, and you should absolutely try to get as much food-sourced protein as you can, but if after all that you’re still not quite meeting your target, it’s ok to supplement. Really. You don’t have to drink protein shakes (unless you want to! shakes are perfectly fine!), you can add protein powder to oatmeal (that’s what I do. My oatmeal breakfast usually works out to over 40 grams of protein when I factor in the protein in the oats themselves, and the milk and protein powder), and baked goods (I know lots of people who add protein to cookies, bread and homemade energy bars). Smoothies made with fruit, yogurt or ice cream are a great vessel for a shot of protein. Adding protein to a mousse or pudding can make a good snack or dessert. Get creative. There are lots of good quality protein supplements on the market (I give some tips for choosing one in my blog post on the topic here). Both rice and whey tend to be very neutral in flavor, but there are many other options (I use Garden of Life which is made from sprouted seeds). Another option is to add egg whites to beverages or oatmeal. Egg Whites International makes a very convenient pasteurized egg white product that you can drink…I know, sounds kinda gross, but in coffee or a glass of juice it’s totally flavorless. Please note that I’m not saying egg yolks are bad here. Egg whites are simply a really convenient way to bump your protein intake. (Egg Whites International does not throw away the yolks by the way, they are used to make other foods). Eating whole eggs is good too. :)

Once you know how much protein you need and how much you’re already getting, fine tuning things is pretty simple, and usually won’t take too much effort. The benefits of getting adequate protein include better fat loss, better satiety and better recovery from workouts. You don’t need to live on chicken breasts and protein shakes though! It’s pretty easy to make a few tweaks to your current diet. No extreme measures necessary!


Animal VS. Plant Protein: Which Is Better?

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 7.26.08 PMSorry kids, it was a trick question. Neither is better. Everything is contextual. Animal protein is better for some people, and in some situations, and vegetable protein is better for some people and in some situations. And in other situations, it’s a wash.

Researchers at the University of Tampa compared the effects of either whey or rice protein on muscle recovery, body composition and strength increases in 24 men (matched for age, body mass, strength, and resistance training experience) over an 8 week resistance training protocol. Each subject consumed 48 grams of either rice or whey protein post workout (this is a large dose, which is relevant. I will explain below.). Their diets were matched for macronutrient ratio and appropriate calorie intake, and were supervised by a registered dietician.

The results showed no statistical difference in body composition, recovery, or strength improvement between the two groups at 8 weeks. From the study:

“Rice protein isolate consumption post resistance exercise decreases fat-mass and increases lean body mass, skeletal muscle hypertrophy, power and strength comparable to whey protein isolate.”

I mentioned above that the large dose was important and here’s why: previous research has shown that at lower doses, animal protein produces superior body composition and strength improvements to plant protein. It has been speculated that it might be due to levels of certain amino acids, specifically leucine, which are proportionally higher in animal protein. This study sought to answer the question ‘If the subject is getting an adequate dose of leucine, does the source of protein matter?’ The answer, according to this study, is no. As long as the subject is getting adequate leucine (2-3 grams), the source of the protein doesn’t matter for body composition and strength improvements. A 48 gram dose of rice protein post workout provides adequate leucine. It is only at smaller doses that source matters.

The take home message here is that if you are using plant protein to support your training, make sure you’re getting enough total protein to meet that 2-3 grams of leucine benchmark. On average it will take about 35-45 grams of plant protein to get 2-3 grams of leucine, with some variation depending on what specific plant source it’s from. In theory, you could also supplement with leucine, although I have never tried this. Don’t worry, the claim that the body can only assimilate 30 grams of protein at a time is a myth.

From personal experience, the more you rely on plant protein, the more you need to pay attention to making sure you’re getting an ample amount. This doesn’t make plant protein inferior, it just means you need a little more of it to meet all your needs. I get most of my protein from plants (I like plant foods better), and I haven’t had any trouble with recovery or building lean mass. I do pay attention to protein intake, and aim for about 150 grams a day (which works out to a bit less than 1 gram per pound of bodyweight) from a combination of whole food sources and a protein supplement (this is the one I use). I have never gone to the trouble of counting specific amino acids, I just aim for an adequate total protein  intake. I don’t think it’s necessary to get this granular unless you enjoy geeking out on your diet. Just get enough protein over the course of the day and you’ll do fine!

If you’re curious, this is the whey protein used in the study, and this is the rice protein.

Fitbit Aria

The Most Unhealthy Meal Ever Created*

*Warning: this post contains epic amounts of sarcasm. Read at your own risk.

I don’t share recipes often, but I was so pleased with myself for creating such a horrifyingly unhealthy recipe that I couldn’t help but share!

This recipe contains so many toxic ingredients it’ll make your head spin! We start with onions, which contain allicin, which is, of course, toxic. I browned them in olive oil. We all know that heating olive oil makes it toxic. Legumes (lentils and chickpeas) contain lectins which are both inflammatory and toxic and trigger leaky gut!!! YIKES! The chickpeas were canned, so likely contained BPA (even though I used a brand that claims there is no BPA in their cans. You can’t trust Big Food though.) Broccoli and kale are both goitrogens which are, again, toxic. They also contain oxalic acid, SO TOXIC!!! I used condensed stock (which is of course toxic) rather than taking the time to prepare home made bone broth – I am a horrible person. :( The water I used was from my tap, which is toxic. If I really cared about my health I would use paleo water. I added some chopped tomatoes on a whim, which are a nightshade and a deadly toxin.

In the plus column, I used celery, which according to is actually ok, but only if you can determine through a series of mental gymnastics that you are really, truly hungry. My hunger did not meet the criteria, so I imagine it was toxic as well.

Here is the sinister simmering result:

Screen Shot 2013-12-05 at 9.23.06 AM


Splash of olive oil
1 onion, chopped
Several stalks of celery, chopped
About a cup of dried red lentils
2 quarts stock
1 can chickpeas, drained
1 head of broccoli, stems and florets, chopped
several handfuls of kale
2-4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
salt and pepper to taste

Soak and rinse the lentils, set aside. Brown the onions and celery in olive oil, then add lentils and stock. Bring to a boil, let simmer until lentils start to soften. Add broccoli stems and chickpeas and simmer a few minutes, then add florets, kale and tomatoes and simmer a few more minutes until everything is cooked through. Turn off heat and let sit for a few minutes, then serve with salt and pepper to taste.

*I didn’t have any garlic or I would have added it to increase the toxicity.

Enjoy! Until it kills you, of course.