Fussy Finicky Compulsive Persnickety


image via Kakitee

image via Kakitee


It’s the dinner guest from hell.

You know the one. He’s not a vegetarian. His diet is not restricted by religion. He doesn’t have food allergies or a medical condition. He’s  just plain fussy.

We think of picky eating as a childhood phenomenon, but there are adults among us– otherwise sensible, well-adjusted men and women– who somehow never outgrew their fussiness. They are perversely choosy, banishing from their diets specific foods and entire food groups. Adult picky eaters might have given up the high chair histrionics of the toddler years, but otherwise haven’t ‘grown out of it,’ as everyone predicted.

While a typical omnivore enjoys thousands of flavors and combinations, a picky eater might tolerate a few dozen.

Meals for them can be minefields of phobic flavors and textures with no discernible logic guiding likes and dislikes: raw mushrooms but not cooked; cooked tomatoes but not raw; they gag on all dairy except for sour cream which magically makes everything taste better.

Theories abound.

Picky eaters have always puzzled clinicians. At various times over the years, picky eating has been linked to obsessive-compulsive disorders, a dulled sense of taste, a childhood trauma centered around food, and the heightened perceptions of a supertaster, There is no known diagnostic category; traditional eating disorders are all organized around weight, appearance, and body image. Yet the behavior around a severely limited diet can interfere with social and professional relationships, which is a hallmark of a true psychiatric disorder.

Fussy-Finicky-Compulsive-Persnicketyin the spotlight.

Now the psychiatric community is considering recognizing Selective Eating Disorder as a medical condition that could apply to adults and children. A task force has been convened to study and categorize finicky eating in adults (known as the Food F.A.D. Study). Researchers at Duke University and the University of Pittsburgh have launched the first public registry of  picky eaters that has already attracted thousands of respondents .

Join the national registry and participate in a survey of eating preferences and habits at

Picky Eating Adults Support(PEAS) is a large online community of fussy eaters  with chapters in the U.S. and the U.K. You’ll find information, support groups, forums, and other resources.

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Finish Your Dessert or There’ll Be No Broccoli!

[Callis dessert plates]

[Callis dessert plates via Getty Museum]


We have it all backwards.
A slew of new research has come out telling us to eat more desserts. It’s good nutrition, good for your teeth, and even good for weight loss.
It’s like a childhood dream come true.

A little dessert does a lot of good at mealtime.
The problem with a very low-fat diet is that many nutrients can’t be adequately absorbed. Vitamins A, D, E, and K, and the carotenoids in green, leafy vegetables are examples of fat-soluble nutrients; they’re virtually useless if they land in the digestive tract without some fat. That’s where dessert comes in—eggs, butter, creamy fillings—we can always count on desserts to provide the fat.

Dessert can help you stick with a diet. 
A diet is a constant tug-of-war between desire and will power. Studies show that dieters who ease up a little will have greater self-control in the long run, while a single-minded focus on the effort to avoid sweets entirely can create a psychological addiction to the very foods they want to avoid.

Eat dessert first.
The best compliance came from dieters who had dessert before dinner. The gratification comes first, making it easier to stick with the healthy foods that come later. Dessert first also causes you to feel full more quickly, and the sense of satiety lasts longer. It’s no illusion: the denser, fattier dessert will settle heavily in the gut and stick around longer than the diet foods that follow.

Dessert for breakfast. 
The old adage instructs us to eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dine like a pauper. That’s because a big and balanced breakfast fires up the metabolism for better fat burning throughout the day. Add a dessert to the meal and it seems to give the metabolism an extra boost. It also suppresses the production of ghrelin, the hormone that increases hunger, and less ghrelin means fewer late-day cravings.

Sweets for breakfast, dessert before dinner—some rules really are made to be broken.

Summaries of both the ‘dessert first study‘ and the ‘dessert for breakfast study‘ can be found in Science Daily.


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The Science of Spit

image via Abracadebra

drool bib via Abracadebra



You could fill your bathtub a few times over with a typical year’s worth of saliva.
Each of us pumps out a liter or two of the stuff daily. Food photography, TV cooking shows, even the mere reading of menu descriptions can get us dribbling. 
That’s a lot of drool. 

Saliva is much more than just water.
Saliva is teeming with hormones, proteins, and enzymes. It keeps our teeth from rotting, heals wounds to our mouths and tongues, and controls the hordes of unhealthy microbes that find their way into our mouths. And it allows us to taste, swallow, and digest food.

It’s actually two different fluids. There’s a sticky, dense liquid that acts as a lubricant and turns everything we chew into a kind of paste, and a thinner, watery fluid that contains the enzyme amylase which breaks down carbohydrates and turns them into digestible sugars. Saliva contains just a trace amount of amylase, but it’s such powerful stuff that even a drop of it will break down all the starch you can throw at it. Spit into a soft, starchy food like mashed potatoes, put it aside, and in a matter of hours you’ll have a bowl of sugary liquid.

Saliva makes you think you’re hungry.
Drooling is an uncontrolled appetite response. We salivate at the sight, sound, and especially smell of tempting foods, and it triggers hunger signals from the brain and intestines, even when we’re not really hungry. It makes it harder to resist temptation, and really, it’s not likely that we’re drooling over rice cakes and celery sticks.

The key to successful dieting: control your drool.
People who struggle with diets tend to be big droolers. If they can resist temptations, eventually they’ll drool less and keep the hunger response from kicking in. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that the toughest part of any diet is just getting started; the drool data tell us that it gets easier if a dieter can push through the early days and reprogram their hunger response.

It’s not just about food.
Are you drooling over the new iPhone? That’s not just a figure of speech; we really do salivate for material goods. The results from two recent studies published in The Journal of Consumer Research reported increased saliva flow in subjects shown photographs of shiny new sports cars, cashmere sweaters, and piles of money. By contrast, they got dry-mouthed from images of office supplies.

This is all sounding very Pavlovian. Instead of a dog and a bell, we’re salivating reflexively over everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to touch screens. But we’re not simple stimulus-response machines. We are infinitely more complex with active internal lives and the capacity to ignore, resist, choose, and change.
We’re not immune to conditioning, but we can take charge of our drool.


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French Fries are Not the Enemy



We top everything that doesn’t move with bacon and trip over cupcake bakeries at every corner.
So why are french fries the nutritionists’ whipping boy?

Yes, they are made from high-glycemic, low fiber white potatoes. Yes, they are high in fat and sodium. No, they do not belong on the lunch trays of our school’s cafeterias. But enough with the demonizing.

The french fries are not, in themselves, the problem.
The real problem is the ubiquity of french fries. Back when we had to wash, peel, slice, deep fry, and clean up the mess ourselves, french fries didn’t stand a chance of becoming America’s favorite ‘vegetable’. Return them to special occasion status.

And no super-sizing. Your mother was right all along: everything in moderation.

Everyone loves french fries, even though some people do ungodly things to them.

  • Albania Albanians eat their patatis lukewarm in a puddle of congealed grease. Albania only comes first only alphabetically.
  • Australia French fries, aka chips, are usually eaten with ketchup (known as tomato sauce), gravy, barbecue sauce, or vinegar. Most restaurants offer a choice of regular table salt and a seasoned but poultry-less blend known as chicken salt. Between neighborhood chip shops and french fry vending machines (fried to order in 90 seconds), Australia is plagued by American-style overload.
  • Belgium Ahh, the mother ship, creator of the french fry, known here as frites, and the country with the most deeply ingrained fry culture. Frites stands, stalls, and trucks blanket the country dispensing freshly fried potatoes in paper cones. When it comes to condiments, mayonnaise rules.
  • Bulgaria They call their french fries persiski kartofi (persian potatoes) and like them gaggingly salty.
  • Canada Let’s talk about that poutine. Fries are topped with cheese curds and brown gravy; perhaps its popularity can be attributed to poutine’s ability to set Canadians apart from the rest of us North American’s. It is otherwise inexplicable.
  • France (and Germany, Italy, Scandinavia, Spain, and most of the rest of Europe) They eat their frites pretty much as we do: thin and crispy with salt and sometimes ketchup.
  • Mexico Lemon juice and hot sauce, singly or in combination, beats out ketchup.
  • Namibia Namibians call their french fries slap chips. No one seems to know why.
  • Poland When it comes to their frytki, it’s all about the garlic: Poles top their potatoes with garlic cream, garlic sauce, and minced beef with garlic.
  • United Kingdom The Brits do love their chips, usually with salt and malt vinegar and a few newspaper-wrapped slabs of fried fish.
  • United States Regional variations abound: gravy fries, thick-cut steak fries, cheese fries, chili fries, curly fries; in Utah the fries come with a Russian dressing-like fry sauce; Minnesotans like to dip theirs in sour cream; Oregon fries come with Miracle Whip; and mid-Atlantic states will serve boardwalk fries with Old Bay seasoning.

Let’s celebrate the wondrous treat that is the french fry. Sparingly. And be thankful that we don’t live in Albania.

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Have You Met Your Quantified Self?



Quantified Self is the name given to the movement that marries self help with data.
It’s all the wearable sensors and monitors that can track your heart rate, sleep patterns, exercise, calories consumed, and so much more. It’s all the filters, mobile apps, and data visualizations that analyze your performance. And it’s the social-sharing of data.

Self-monitoring isn’t a new idea.
Athletes have always tracked their nutrition, training, and performance. Dieters keep food journals, and migraine or allergy sufferers are counseled to keep journals that track their triggers. What’s new is our ubiquitous connectivity and the amount of data that can easily be captured. Tiny trackers can be clipped and strapped to body parts and embedded in clothing and everyday objects. Sensors can be hyper-specific taking the measure of every step, breath, and heartbeat, charting blood oxygen levels, sleep quality, sexual arousal, and how many swipes you make with your toothbrush.

Quantified Self has exploded in the world of diet and nutrition.
Early adopters were known as ‘body hackers,’ festooned with arm bands, ear tags, day-glo goggles, and dangling lead wires. They monitored everything that went in and plenty of what came out, all in the name of science.

Most of us are not so interested in counting intestinal bacterial colonies and correlating butter intake with math skills. We just want some help to stay on track with our health and fitness goals, maybe lose a few pounds, and eat more healthfully. The new generation of devices does just that, and early studies suggest that they work.

You can go crazy with all the options. There are devices just for swimmers, bodybuilders, and rock climbers. You can strap a monitor to your wrist for readings of your heart and respiratory rates, optical blood flow, perspiration, and skin temperature. There’s even a dieter’s fork that monitors every bite you put in your mouth. Barring any health concerns that require monitoring, you’ll do just fine with a set-up that includes apps to track diet and exercise, plus a scale so you can measure progress. Then you can go forth and quantify.

My Fitness Pal is the king of the calorie counting apps with 30 million registered users and a killer database. It’s basically a simple food tracker for your cell phone, but its food knowledge is scarily comprehensive. You can scan in foods through your phone’s camera, and it also seems to know all the recipes from all the major cookbooks, magazines, and websites. It never seems to take more than a tap or two to tell it what you ate, and it’s never stumped when it comes to the corresponding nutritional data. It’s also free, is available for iPhones, Blackberrys, Android, and Windows devices, and syncs with the app’s website.

With the diet piece in place, you’ll want to quantify your activity level. The Fitbit One is the shape and heft of a stick of Trident on a paper clip. Clip it to your clothes or tuck it in your pocket during the day and it records the number of steps taken, stairs climbed, distance traveled, and calories burned. When your travels take you to the vicinity of your computer it automatically sends data updates to FitBit’s website, and it wirelessly syncs to any diet or fitness apps on your cell phone. Wear it at night and it measures your sleep by both hours and degree of restfulness.

Step on the Withings Body Scale  and it measure weight, lean and fat mass, and calculates your body mass index. It tracks trends in your weight and body composition, and connects by wi-fi to your phone where it shares the information with your calorie counter and exercise apps. It can integrate data from the other programs to produce some nifty graphs. If you’re a fan of sharing TMI, it’s also twitter-enabled.

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Pet Obesity: When Dogs Look Too Much Like Their Owners

Winners of the  ‘I Look Like My Dog’ contest from Cesar Select Dinners

Last week the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University opened the nation’s first obesity clinic for pets.
It seems that our pets, just like their human owners, are fat. About half of all dogs in American homes are overweight or obese, which can lead to very human health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and joint problems.

Dogs share their owners’ lifestyles.
A generation ago, the notion of overweight pets would have struck us as ludicrous. But today we live increasingly in yard-less apartments and we build suburban developments with no sidewalks. Dogs are couch potato companions, joining us in front of TVs and computer screens. Walks are brief, primarily for the elimination of waste, and the dogs are left behind when we get our own exercise at the gym.

We project our foodie-isms onto our dogs.
You can buy dog food in locally-sourced, seasonal, organic, vegan, and slow food varieties, like the Well Fed Dog’s Salmon and Pumpkin Dinner, which uses only organic Scottish salmon ($9.95 for a 16 oz. serving), and Succulent Chicken poached in garlic-infused lobster consommé from Petropic’s Hawaiian-themed Tiki meals ($4.29 for a 14.1 oz. can). Even Purina has its Chef Michael’s Carvery Creations line that comes in flavors like brisket and braised short ribs (99¢ for a 3 oz. can).

The fact is that dogs have a mere fraction of our taste buds, and they will pretty much eat anything—they’re known to be especially fond of socks and cat feces. But these high-protein, high-fat diets suit more than just the dog owners’ culinary sensibilities—the easily digestible foods combined with little exercise mean that there are fewer calls of nature, and walks can be less frequent.

We have also come up with pet obesity solutions that mirror our own.
Jenny Craig diet has partnered with Nestlé for a proprietary regimen, Project:Pet Slimdown, and Pfizer Pharmaceutical markets Slentrol, an FDA-approved prescription weight-loss drug for dogs. There are Jog a Dog canine treadmills and Thank Dog Boot Camp workouts. And just like human weight-loss methods, the failure rates are high.

Fat owners make fat dogs
The twin obesity epidemics are tightly entwined. Studies show that we are as indulgent with our dogs as with ourselves.
We need fewer calories in the bowl and more miles on the feet. It’s the best advice for both dogs and owners. You and your dog will still look alike, only better.


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How Big is Your Cupholder?

image via The Onion


Car radios have come and gone. Ditto for pop-out lighters and GPS systems. But cup holders are forever.

Yes kids, cars really used to come without cup holders.
As indispensable as they’ve become, it’s hard to believe that manufacturers have only been building them into car interiors since the 1980’s. We so covet the perfect cup holder that an Autobytel survey found that 39% of us try out the cup holders when we shop for a new car, and 27% of us will completely reject a make or model solely on the basis of cup holders that aren’t to our liking.

It still doesn’t explain the Honda Odyssey—seating for 7, cup holders for 15.
The number one complaint reported by 70% of the survey respondents is that cup holders are too small. Back when cup holders were first installed, soda came in 7 ounce bottles and 12 ounce cans, and a large restaurant soft drink was 16 ounces; today the standard soda bottle is 20 ounces and the average restaurant serving is a whopping 42 ounces.

European car makers are legendary for their inability (or unwillingness) to understand the cup holder. Sensible German and Scandinavian drivers drink their coffee in proper venues, and they would never enter a vehicle with a sloppy, sloshing soda. For years the European manufacturers couldn’t bring themselves to condescend to the coarser habits of American car buyers. At first they refused to install cup holders at all. Finally, grudgingly, they came up with a too small, too flimsy, spring-loaded finger-like thingy, thereby helping to create a secondary market in jumbo car cup holder mounts and adapters.

Maybe Mayor Bloomberg is on to something.
In the pre-cup holder days of the 1970’s, the calories in the beverages we drank added up to a mere 2-4% of the total calories we consumed. Since entering the super-size-me-venti-big-gulp era, the average beverage intake now accounts for nearly 21% of the total.
The real problem,
of course, is not that the cup holders are too small, but that our drinks are too big.

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Foods That Fill You Up: The Satiety Index

Rabelais's Gargantua


You know the saying that we feel hungry soon after eating Chinese food? It turns out that there is truth to it.
According to the satiety index, steamed rice or Chinese noodles have less than half the filling power of potatoes.

The satiety index measures the fullness factor of food. It tells you about bang for the buck: a high satiety food will satisfy hunger better and for a longer time than the same number of calories of a low satiety food.

Satiety takes into account a lot of different dietary factors that contribute to a sense of fullness.
There are foods that fill you with their sheer physical bulk, some that satisfy with taste and texture, and some with physiological consequences that trigger receptors in the digestive tract or send certain signals to the brain that cause a drop in appetite.

  • the high water content in fruits, vegetables, and broth-based soups rank them high on the SI;
  • popcorn and oatmeal stuff you with fiber;
  • beans and legumes contain anti-nutrients which delay their absorption to make you feel full for longer;
  • crispy, crunchy foods provide textural gratification.

It turns out that you can compare apples and oranges.
Oranges have a slight SI edge over apples, and both are more satisfying than grapes. And the juicy bulk of fresh grapes are vastly more filling than the caloric equivalent in raisins. Surprisingly, they all beat out bananas.

The SI holds a few other surprises:

  • While all energy-dense foods pack a big calorie wallop in a little package, calorie-for-calorie, beef and chicken are better protein sources than eggs;
  • full-sugar soda, sugar-free soda, or bottled water—for men (but not women or children), at the end of the day, there’s no difference in total calories consumed;
  • steamed white potatoes rule the satiety index—their stuffy blandness gives four times the bulk and three times the filling power of the average food;
  • jelly beans can curb the appetite—their nutritional profile should score low on the SI, but a handful of jelly beans left dieters feeling so queasy that they ate less afterward.

Many in the medical community consider the satiety index to be a true diet breakthrough. The science behind it is nothing new, and it’s not a complete dietary plan, but the satiety index is a simple way to evaluate foods, and it’s an improvement over popular one-dimensional measures like carbs, calories, and fats. A few well-chosen food swaps from the index can provide greater satiety from fewer calories, and even satisfy enough to get dieters to put down the fork.

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Weekends are Bad for our Eating Health

There’s something about the weekend.
It can be 2½ days of downtime or jam-packed with activities. Either way, it beckons us to throw caution to the wind.

7.68 million food ratings describing nutritional content were collected through the iPhone app The Eatery; the numbers were crunched and distinct eating patterns were revealed.

There are some people who use the weekend to get a jump on their diet and exercise plans with two day juice fasts marathon runs, but most of us fall into a decidedly more indulgent camp. If we get to the gym a few times and followed a healthy eating plan all week we feel like we earned our weekend splurge.

Our weekly downhill slide starts with lunch on Friday, easily the least healthy of the weekday lunches, and continues straight through to Sunday night. It actually picks up steam so that each hour of the weekend is just a little less healthy than the one that preceded. Friday dinner is a well-deserved treat after a tough week, but Saturday’s is typically the least healthy meal of the week. We sleep late on Sunday but still manage to pack our most immoderate day into fewer hours. We dine a bit  less indulgently on Sunday night, with an eye toward restarting the weekday regimen.

An extra 350 calories spread out over the weekend—just one bagel, or a few glasses of wine or beer, or an ice cream cone—and over the course of a year it adds up to 18,000 added calories; enough to pack on an extra 5 pounds.


infographics courtesy of Massive Health/The Eatery

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Lesbians Get Fat, Gay Men Stay Skinny, and New Wives Pack on the Pounds

image via Kimball Stock


It’s true. Women really do ‘let themselves go’ when they’re in a relationship.
I hate myself for saying it. I feel like a mean-spirited sexist, a traitor to my gender, a perpetuator of hateful stereotypes. But it’s undeniable, supported by mountains of data.

Women in committed relationships are far more likely to become obese as those who are merely dating.
The greater the commitment the greater the likelihood: it doubles with cohabitation and triples with marriage. Less so for men whose weight is relatively unaffected by living together and whose gain tends to taper off after a few pounds early in marriage.

Of course you’re getting fat.
Lean Cuisine and yogurt have become a thing of the single gal past. Now you’re part of a couple, cozying up on the couch with Netflix and a pizza, sharing a dessert when you go out for dinner, and spending indulgently lazy Sundays with bagels and the newspaper.

Gay or straight, fat or skinny, men prefer thinner partners.
Even beyond preference, The International Journal of Obesity reported that 73% of men claim discomfort or intolerance for dating the overweight. People who seek relationships with men—gay men and straight women—feel the most pressure to conform to the norms of attractiveness. And this plays out in the weight divide among couples. Put two judgmental men together in a gay couple, and you find the lowest obesity rates (14%). Take men out of the equation and you find the highest obesity rates (26%) for lesbian couples. Heterosexual couples tend to fall somewhere in the middle.

Chubbily ever after
You can look in the mirror all you want, but when you’re in a relationship, it’s all about the reflected gaze of your partner—who loves you.
Failing that, most overweight women lose about 15 pounds following a break-up.
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Army Recruits Keep Getting Fatter

The Army’s got a weight problem.
New recruits keep getting fatter. With obesity rates in the U.S. at an all time high, more applicants to the military are rejected for being overweight than for any other reason. It’s estimated that each 1% rise in civilian weight and body fat reduces military eligibility by 850,000 men and 1.3 million women. The number of overweight would-be soldiers is so large that the Army has recently had to relax its physical standards to help make its recruitment goals.

The new, laxer standards give recruits a few extra chances to qualify.
First an enlistee’s weight is checked against newly plumped-up height and weight tables. The allowable maximum weight for a 5’9″ man is now as high as 186 lbs., and 146 lbs. for a 5’3″ woman. About one in five new recruits is over the regulation weight, and half will fail the entry-level physical fitness test consisting of one minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups, and a 1-mile run.

The Army hates to let one get away; when a recruit fails to make the weight cut, they can get a second chance to enlist if their body mass index passes muster. Body fat can be up to a rather generous 26 percent for men and 36 percent for women. And if they need a little more help, new rules allow female recruits to use neck and arm circumference and leave their waist measurements out of body fat calculations.

And if they still can’t qualify, the Army has a new waiver program that gives overweight recruits a year to slim down before they’re kicked out.

According to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center, obesity rates among military personnel have tripled in the last decade. Fully a third of the Army is now out of compliance with weight standards.

The extra weight can be a real career killer. Overweight soldiers can’t be promoted or attend military training school, and each year a few thousand are discharged when they don’t shed the pounds. Last year Army Times reported on the rampant use of diet pills,  laxatives, and liposuction undertaken by soldiers so they can maintain their careers. And the problem is not limited to the Army—all five military branches saw similar increases over the past eight years, led by the Air Force, with 7.2 percent of its ranks considered overweight or obese.

Still, it’s an all-volunteer military, and you have to give the people what they want. Mess halls have abandoned the chow line for something closer to a shopping mall food court. The Army’s food program dictates that breakfast include made-to-order eggs, three types of bread, three types of meat, six kinds of cereal, no fewer than one potato dish, and at least one pastry. Lunch and dinner bring at least two hot entrees with legally mandated sauce or gravy, plus two short-order entrees chosen from items like pizza and fried chicken; a deli bar featuring three types of meat; a grill with four items like hamburgers and grilled cheese sandwiches; french fries, onion rings, assorted chips and pretzels, and at least four desserts. Beyond the all-you-can-eat mess halls, there are vending machines in the barracks and fast-food outlets like Taco Bell and KFC right on the base. And then there’s the chocolate milk. Marines get it at every meal—it’s a Corps regulation.

Certainly nobody could begrudge culinary comforts for members of our armed forces.
But in the interest of whipping soldiers into shape for duty, all branches of the military are revamping their nutrition standards for the first time in 20 years. The Pentagon, with an assist from the First Lady of Nutrition Michelle Obama, will be bringing more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat entrées to all 1,100 service member dining halls.

Department of Defense officials describe the obesity trend as a national security problem. They see us raising kids who are stuffed with soda and fast food and whiling away the hours in front of video games and computer screens, and worry that we could end up with entire generations that might never attain the fitness necessary for military service.

Obviously this is not just a military problem, but a problem for all of us.

Are YOU too fat to serve?
See how you stack up against  Army height and weight charts for male and female recruits.


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The Yabba Dabba Doo Diet

image via Hanna-Barbera


There’s a lot of buzz about the Paleo Diet.
Followers try to mimic the 10,000 year-old regimen of hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic era before the advent of agriculture and domesticated animals. The diet is limited to foods that would have been available to early man either straight from the ground or the animal: pastured meats and wild fish, roots, nuts, fruit, and vegetables; no processed foods, sugar, dairy, beans, or grains. Nutty, yes, but the diet has gotten a boost from celebrity adherents like Megan Fox, Uma Thurman, and Tom Jones, NBA players Grant Hill and Steve Nash, and a good-sized chunk of the NFL.

Nuttier still is the logic behind the Paleo Diet.
It seems that primordial human fossils show that no one was fat back then. They didn’t suffer from modern-day problems like diabetes, arthritis, cancer, or cardiovascular disease. Of course they rarely lived beyond their 30’s, so it’s possible that they just didn’t live long enough to develop these conditions, but Paleo Dieters argue that it’s because they had inherently healthier diets.

The rationale has to do with evolution.
The Paleolithic era of hunter-gatherers lasted for 2.5 million years giving humans plenty of time for genetic adaptation. The era ended a mere 10,000 years ago, and the Paleo crowd claims that the modern diet has zoomed too far ahead too fast for the human genome to catch up. We’re forcing a 21st century diet into our stone age bodies.

“It’s intuitive,” says Dr. Loren Cordain of the Department of Health and Exercise Science at Colorado State University. “Obviously you can’t feed meat to a horse, you can’t feed hay to a cat.” Author of the bestselling The Paleo Diet (and The Paleo Diet Cookbook, The Paleo Diet for Athletes, and The Paleo Answer), Cordain claims millions of followers, many of whom also incorporate a caveman-like workout into their lifestyle, practicing underbrush scoots, boulder tosses, and other primitive skills that can be helpful when fleeing a mastodon.

Moving beyond the wheel
The food is prehistoric but the technology is not.
Paleos have an active online community; you’ll find more than 5,000 discussion topics covering the Paleo diet and lifestyle at CAVEMANforum, as well as an assortment of smartphone apps that take the guesswork out of cooking, nutrition, food shopping, and restaurant dining for Paleos.

Beware of Matshishkapeu, god of constipation.
Anyone who’s ever tried a high-protein diet is familiar with the side effect of sluggish digestion. Paleolithic-Inuits believed that constipation was the result of a curse from Matshishkapeu, a mythological figure known familiarly as ‘Fart Man’ that accompanied the Innu when they were hunting, trapping, fishing, and foraging.


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Eating Disorders: Not Just a White Girl’s Problem

Gwyneth image via SFGate

No matter what I do, I will never be as strong or thin as Gwyneth. (#whitegirlproblems)

If you thought eating disorders were only for white girls, think again.
New studies of disordered eating among racial and ethnic minorities are challenging the widespread perception that these afflictions are the sole domain of privileged, white teenagers.

For years, girls of color were thought to be immune. The cultural standards of beauty in Black and Latina communities had always valued size and curves, and put less emphasis on thinness. But new generations of minority girls are striving to conform to the standards of the prevailing culture, and its reinforced by the increasing diversity of fashion and advertising, with images of thin, beautiful Hispanic- and African-American women joining those of whites.

I need to lose about 6,000 pounds. (#whitegirlproblems)

The classic study of body image presents girls with a set of female silhouette images and instructs them to select their current and ideal from the choices. Body dissatisfaction is then calculated by ascertaining the absolute differences between participants’ current and ideal silhouettes. Historically, the white girls in these studies chose smaller ideal silhouettes and demonstrated vastly higher rates of dissatisfaction with their current shape; recent results show non-whites choosing larger sizes for their current representations, but virtually no difference in the choice of ideal form.

This toothpaste tastes fattening. (#whitegirlproblems)

Now that they have the same anxiety and shame about their bodies, girls of color are succumbing to the same eating disorders as the white girls. Occurrences are at a rate of about 1.5% for all population groups. White and Latina girls are more inclined to be anorexic, while Black and Native American girls have higher rates of bulimia. Only Asian-American girls, with their naturally smaller body types, are less prone to engage in disordered eating.

I was gonna work out but I’m hungry so…..oh well. I’m just gonna embrace my body and be a size 6. *sigh* (#whitegirlproblems)

Looks like it’s time for an overhaul over at White Girl Problems. *
Or at least a new name.

*In case you missed it:
is the twitter feed/internet meme/pop culture sensation/now a book that spoofs the obnoxious, condescending, and frivolous whinings of the privileged and self-absorbed. It’s a world that is profoundly inconvenienced by shopping, yoga, boyfriends, roommates, and especially the pursuit of a decent low-fat frozen yogurt.


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A Year in the Life of Your Stomach


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How Food Influences Dreams

image via the film 'Sleeping and Dreaming of Food'

You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of underdone potato. There’s more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!

– Scrooge to Marley’s ghost; from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol

Was it something I ate?
Anyone who has ever gone to bed after a dinner of enchiladas can tell you that what you eat affects your dreams. Surprisingly, there is very little solid science to explain it.

Spicy foods in particular are notorious for inspiring especially vivid dreams.
Some in the medical community have theorized that the heat from the spices elevates body temperature enough to interfere with the quality of sleep. The discomfort then works its way into your subconscious, and is reflected in the narrative it creates. Real life stomach aches and other types of gastric distress can end up as dream-pain experienced by your dream-self.

Another theory suggests that what you eat before bedtime isn’t as important as how much you eat and when you eat it. Any digestion increases the metabolism and brain activity, so the more you eat and the closer it is to bedtime, the more vivid the dreams.

Sweet dreams: Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, is another culprit. When your body’s blood sugar level is low, which happens when you haven’t eaten in a long while before bedtime, your brain gives you a little spurt of adrenaline that causes your body to drop some stored glucose into the bloodstream. If you’ve ever had a dream that wasn’t just vivid but also felt especially frantic, you know the feeling of adrenalized dreaming.

If you’ve ever dreamed you were sitting in a restaurant only to wake up and find your partner cooking up some bacon, you already know that food smells can creep into your dreams. The sense of smell is associated with the part of the brain that is associated with emotions, so food smells can take on a literal meaning and also affect the mood of your sleeping-self. One study (unpublished but presented to the American Academy of Otolarygology) pumped different scents into the nostrils of sleeping subjects, and found that dream moods and impressions were clearly colored by the smells, although dream content seemed unchanged.

Gaming your own dreams
We know that food affects dreams, but no one has figured out how to use it to manipulate the content of dreams, Inception-style. The best we can do is choose foods and time our meals to get the best night’s sleep possible. Web MD has a slide show of foods that help and foods that harm your sleep.


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Why We Drool

image via Abracadebra

Pavlov’s drooling dog has nothing on us.
Each of us pumps out a liter or two of the stuff daily. Food photography, TV cooking shows, even the mere reading of menu descriptions can get us dribbling. A typical year’s worth of saliva could fill your bathtub a few times over.

Saliva is much more than water. It’s teeming with hormones, proteins, and enzymes that heal wounds, keep our teeth from rotting, and help to control the hordes of unhealthy microbes that find their way into our mouths. It’s essential to our sense of taste, helps us to swallow, and makes food digestible.

Drooling also plays a role in weight loss. It’s part of the body’s automatic appetite response. We salivate at the sight, sound, and especially smell of tempting foods and that causes the body to produce insulin, the hormone that encourages our bodies to store fat and triggers hunger signals from the brain and intestines. Basically, drooling is related to the factors that undermine our resolve to eat healthfully—really, who’s drooling over celery sticks?

Successful dieters seem to be able to rewire the appetite response. Research has shown that people who struggle with their weight drool more than individuals who’ve succeeded on diets. It seems that if a dieter can consistently and repeatedly resist temptations, over time their saliva response will decrease. Anyone who has ever tried to lose weight knows that the toughest part of any diet is just getting started; the drool data tell us that it gets easier if a dieter can push through the early days and reprogram their appetite responses.

It’s not just about food.
Are you drooling over the new iPhone? That’s not just a figure of speech; we really do salivate for material goods. The results from two recent studies published in The Journal of Consumer Research reported increased saliva flow in subjects shown photographs of shiny new sports cars, cashmere sweaters, and piles of money. By contrast, they got dry-mouthed from images of office supplies.

This is all sounding very Pavlovian. Instead of a dog and a bell, we’re drooling reflexively over everything from grilled cheese sandwiches to paper bills with pictures of dead presidents. But we are not simple stimulus-response machines. We are infinitely more complex with active internal lives and the capacity to ignore, resist, choose, and change. We’re not immune to conditioning, but we are free to chart a different course.

Now that we know why we drool, we can use the knowledge to rise above it.



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Your Plate is Making You Fat

image via Beard Crumbs

It turns out that portion control is just an optical illusion.
The size and shape, even the color of dishes and glasses have a huge effect on how much we eat and drink. We pour larger drinks into short, wide glasses, and put big servings on big plates. When the food coordinates with the plate’s color, we load up even more.

Did you think it was your appetite and willpower determining choices?
We face an average of 226 food-related choices in a day, but we exercise conscious decision-making in only around 15 of them. The other 200 or so daily food choices are essentially mindless decisions. You’ll finish any sized hamburger just because you always eat a whole hamburger, grab a doughnut because someone brought a box into the office, and help yourself to seconds because the bowl is right there.

Size matters.
Fifty years ago, the standard dinner plate had a 9 inch diameter. Today, it’s most likely to be 12 inches, and we tend to calibrate our appetites to what’s on the plate instead of what our bodies tell us.

Color matters too.
Portions appear smaller when the food blends with the plate color. You’re likely to eat more spaghetti with marinara sauce on a red plate and cornbread on a yellow one. White and blue plates tend to provide the best contrast for portion control; researchers say red and gold are the worst. Even the tablecloth color can shape portion perceptions.

It’s impossible to avoid the environmental cues that encourage us to eat, but recognizing them is a step in the right direction.



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Walmart Makes You Fat


While we were were off blaming McDonald’s for the obesity epidemic, Walmart snuck in there.
A newly published study in the Journal of Urban Economics tracked extensive health and population data between 1996 and 2005, a period in which 1,569 Walmart supercenters, with their in-store supermarkets, opened across the U.S. The researchers found that one new Walmart supercenter per 100,000 residents boosted the obesity rate by 2.3 percentage points—2,300 people from the store’s vicinity who weren’t obese ended up in that category after a superstore opened.

Instead of a single, causal link between Walmart stores and weight gain, it’s theorized that there is a whole range of factors.
First up is the most obvious—Walmart lowers the price of food, allowing customers to buy more. Walmart is notorious for the penny-pinching way it squeezes suppliers, and it’s estimated that a region’s food prices drop by between 8 and 27 per cent across the board when a supercenter moves in. The biggest impact is felt in the pricing of processed foods from large-scale manufacturers, where Walmart tends to have its firmest price advantage. Competitors cut their prices in response to a new Walmart, so area residents can end up paying less for their food without even setting foot in the supercenter.

Inevitably, some smaller markets will fail: a 2003 Wall Street Journal article showed that 25 out of 29 supermarket bankruptcies in the previous decade had been caused by the arrival of a Walmart. When the smaller mom-and-pops disappear, neighborhoods become less walkable. Locals are walking less and spending more time in front of screens—a study of Walmart’s product offerings showed that the availability of discounted video games and DVDs has an influence over leisure activities. And since they now have to pile into a car and drive a greater distance, Walmart supercenter shoppers tend to buy groceries less frequently. Shelf-stable processed foods become the practical choice over fresh but highly perishable meat and dairy, fruits and vegetables.

Baby steps in the right direction
We’re not ready to sing the praises of a a big box, marketplace brute, but to Walmart’s credit, the company has announced a five-year plan to improve the nutritional values of its store brands, cut prices for whole foods and vegetables, and open stores in low-income areas that are currently  food deserts with little access to supermarkets.

Walmart is the country’s largest food seller, visited each week by nearly one-third of the U.S. population. It’s capable of spurring dramatic changes by harnessing its marketplace muscle in service of an agenda. In the past the company has chosen to apply its bounteous brute force to grinding suppliers into the dust, crushing the dreams of independent proprietors, and propagating exploitative, discriminatory, union-busting employment practices. Let’s see what happens when the retail giant sets out to do some good.




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