Tag Archives: diet

Attack of the Belly Fat Ads

They’re the ads that ate the internet.
You know the ones—crudely drawn, often animated, with cellulite deflating and re-inflating above the waistline of a pair of too-tight jeans, in a never-ending before-and-after of fat to fit to fat to fit. The headline, looking to be hand-lettered, touts a simple, unnamed tip to trim the fat.

To say you know the ads is an understatement. The ads are so ubiquitous that you’ve likely seen them hundreds or even thousands of times. Their sponsors are clients of half of all the ad networks in the U.S., running on the homepages of powerhouse websites like Facebook, CNN, and the Washington Post. They’ve appeared tens of billions of times as banner ads and popups. You read that right—billions, with a b.

The Federal Trade Commission is going after the perpetrators of a hustle.
The FTC has asked federal courts to halt the belly fat ads and freeze the operators’ assets, alleging that the ads are the leading edge of a vast and elaborate con built on false claims and deceptive practices.

Click on the ad looking for a homespun diet tip and you’re taken to a second site. This one looks like news coverage of a reporter’s investigation into the health benefits of diet supplements. The faux news report, named something like Weekly Health News or Health News Beat, typically investigates diet pills made from mangoes or acai berries, or from the human hormone hCG. It might include the names and logos of major networks and news outlets, and because the ads run on their websites, the reporter will falsely represent that the networks have run the news report.

The fake reporting has suckered millions of people into giving up their credit card numbers to obtain ‘free’ samples. It turns out to be not so free when the initial orders obligate them to a stream of $79.99 shipments. There’s a toll-free number for cancellations, and the tens of thousands of people who have filed complaints after their calls went unanswered will be happy to tell you about that one.

We keep seeing the ads because they work. So far, these unsavory businesses have raked in more than a billion dollars in sales—again, that’s billion with a b.

Read about the 10 legal challenges filed by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC has also posted a consumer alert to warn the public about the proliferation of deceptive claims and fake news sites that pedal weight loss aids.

 

Posted in cyberculture, health + diet | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Potluck Politics

[image via Column Five Media]

Check those voter registration cards at the door.
You don’t want to serve gnocchi if there are Republicans on the guest list—linguine and spaghetti are the preferred pasta shapes of Conservatives, but a nice lasagne crosses party lines.

So says Hunch, the collective intelligence, decision-making website co-founded by the people who brought us Flickr. Hunch is building a ‘taste graph’ for the internet, using profile-building methodology to map group and individual affinities. Sifting through 25 million responses, its algorithm reveals distinct eating patterns and preferences that correlate with political ideologies.

We split along party lines on more than congressional budgets and healthcare.
Liberals like their pizza with a thin crust while Conservatives lean toward deep dish. Liberals like to toast things for breakfast, are crazy for seafood, and are 57%  more likely to drink wine with dinner at home. Conservatives skip breakfast more often, like to fire up the grill for dinner, and are 57% more inclined to avoid tap water. But everyone agrees: soft tacos are best.

Remember the defining moment in the 2008 election? In the still wide field of Democratic presidential candidates, the junior senator from Illinois strode into a Rural Issues Forum on a farm outside of Des Moines, Iowa and asked this question:
Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?
That’s when we knew that Barack Obama was a foodie like us.

It turns out that Democrats do like arugula. And Thai food. And bacon cheeseburgers. See the full political spectrum: You Vote What You Eat: How Liberals and Conservatives Eat Differently, at the Hunch blog.

Where politics are never taboo at the dinner table:
The same folks who brought us Drinking Liberally have added Eating Liberally to their social network of like-minded, left-leaning individuals. Hundreds of local chapters (in 47 states, plus DC and abroad) organize monthly gatherings that facilitate political engagement and democratic discourse over food and drink.

Stymied by the name?
Conservatives have been less successful in their efforts to get a similar network off the ground. Drinking Conservatively just doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. Keep checking for new developments from Red County, the folks who attempted to launch both Drinking Conservatively and Right on the Rocks.

 

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Why Skinny Mothers have Fat Babies.

It’s been said that you are what you eat.
Now a new study tells us that you are what your mother ate.

For years, scientists have been stumped by a phenomenon they observed during the Second World War: the babies born to underfed, malnourished mothers were more likely to grow up to be obese adults. There was an obvious explanation—it was only natural that after the war the mothers became overindulgent, spoiling their children to compensate for their wartime suffering. But the scientists postulated that something physiological was going on as well.

They suspected a certain metabolic occurrence. They already knew that a poor diet can trigger a metabolic survival mode that increases the body’s ability to store fat—very handy in times of famine; less so when food is abundant, and then the result is a propensity toward obesity with its constellation of weight-related health problems  They theorized that the babies’ metabolism had been impacted in the womb by their mothers’ diet, but had no idea of the body’s mechanism that would cause it to take place.

After decades of research with mother/child test subjects and advances in the study of genetics, the scientific community finally has an explanation. Details of the breakthrough appear in this month’s Journal of the American Diabetes Association.

The researchers concluded that the quality of an expectant mother’s diet can actually cause modifications in the baby’s DNA. These modifications won’t change the DNA sequence, but they will change how it functions. They are like volume knobs that attach themselves to DNA and can raise or lower the activity level of certain genes. In this case, researchers have located the tags on a particular gene—one that creates vitamin receptors that determine how fat is processed.

A diet that is very low in carbohydrates, particularly during the first trimester of a pregnancy, can be an obesity time bomb that wreaks habit throughout a child’s life. And we’re not talking about concentration camp levels of starvation. One of the popular low-carb diets like an Atkins- or Zone-type regimen is probably enough to trigger the effect.

The DNA modification can be identified in a newborn, but the impact won’t be immediately obvious. In controlled studies, birth weights were normal, but follow-up studies at ages 6 and 9 already revealed significant obesity in children with tagged DNA.

It’s a fascinating piece of research that carries a vital warning for parents-to-be. But perhaps more significantly, it has the potential to change the way we manage and redress the current runaway rates of obesity.

Read the full text of the study Epigenetic Gene Promoter Methylation at Birth Is Associated With Child’s Later Adiposity in the Journal of the American Diabetes Association.

 

 

Posted in health + diet, Science/Technology | Tagged , | 4 Comments

A Little Nosh: Jewish Girls and Eating Disorders

Why do so many Jewish girls have eating disorders?

A recent New York Times article shed light on the problem of eating disorders in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community. While it piques our interest to see inside this curious, closed society, it hardly comes as a surprise—from privileged American suburbs to the Israeli desert (home to the world’s highest rate of eating disorders), where ever you have Jewish girls, you’ll find high rates of disordered eating.

Eat, bubbeleh, eat.
Is there another culture or religion more bound up in the rituals, traditions, and symbolism of food?
Sabbath dinners, Passover seders, latkes and pastrami and bagels with lox; sometimes it seems like the days of the week, the months of the year, the entire Jewish calendar is ladled out of a soup tureen. So many opportunities to muck up a girl’s relationship with food.

Then there’s the kosher laws. Watch the shellfish; ditto the pork products. Separate the meat and dairy, and the dishes for meat and dairy, and the silverware, cutting boards, and pots and pans. It’s a rigid, ritualized fixation on food and eating that some consider a perfect breeding ground for the obsessive behavior of anorexics, while the fasting days (usually followed by an extravagant fast-breaking feast) are a stepping stone to the binge and purge of bulimia.

Funny, you don’t look Jewish.
Look around you. Something like 1% of the population is genetically predisposed to the cultural ideal of long-limbed, slim bustiness. And it’s not the Jews. Jewish fashion designers—sure. There’s Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger, and Ralph Lauren, just to name a few. Jewish fashion models—not so much. But the founders of Weight Watchers, Nutri-System, and Jenny Craig—all Jews.

This is not just about a bunch of spoiled Jewish girls skipping lunch.
It could be the unattainable ideal of Barbie-like beauty, the pressures of an upper middle-class, high-achieving population group, the ritualized, food-centric culture, or even a genetic predisposition—the medical and mental health communities aren’t certain why Jewish girls have so many eating disorders. Data is limited, but there is one thing they all agree on: eating disorders are the deadliest psychiatric illness out there. They pair one of the lowest cure rates with the highest rate of mortality.

 

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Eat Candy. Live Longer.

There’s a scene in the movie Sleeper.
Woody Allen plays the owner of a health food store who is cryogenically frozen in 1973 and defrosted by a pair of scientists 200 years later…

Dr. Melik: This morning for breakfast he requested something called “wheat germ, organic honey and tiger’s milk.”
Dr. Aragon: Oh, yes. Those are the charmed substances that some years ago were thought to contain life-preserving properties.
Dr. Melik: You mean there was no deep fat? No steak or cream pies or . . . hot
fudge?
Dr. Aragon: Those were thought to be unhealthy . . . precisely the opposite
of what we now know to be true.
Dr. Melik: Incredible.

Yes to butter, no to soy. Or is it yes to soy?
Who can keep track?
We’ve seen good foods gone bad— think of tuna and margarine; and we’ve seen coffee, red wine, and chocolate become the new health foods. Now we’re learning that people who eat candy live longer and lead healthier lives than those who abstain.

Candy eaters weigh less and have smaller waistlines. They are at lower risk for high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. Chocoholics in particular have significantly improved cardiovascular health, while peppermint lovers have tougher immune systems and fewer digestive disorders.

In multiple, multi-decade studies conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health, the USDA, and others, health benefits couldn’t be explained by age, gender, weight, exercise, smoking, diet, or family history. It all points to the candy.

The act of repetitive chomping on something chewy can increase serotonin levels that can improve your mood, reduce stress, increase your mental focus, and block pain. Make it something sweet and chewy, and it’s known to help you persevere longer on difficult tasks, delay gratification, and restore willpower. In other words, candy can help you stay on a diet.

Do yourself a favor and unwrap a Hershey’s bar or pop some gummis. Life is sweet.

Data referenced can be found in the February 2011 issue of Nutrition Research; and Life is Sweet: candy consumption and longevity.

 

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Why Are We Talking About Food Dyes?

There’s a dark side to the rainbow.
We’ve wondered about food coloring for years.
There was the Great M&M Scare of the 1970’s when rumors of a cancer link fueled a public fear of red candy shells. We toughed it out for almost a decade with a lackluster mix of green, orange, yellow, and brown.

Then we started hearing about studies linking yellow food dye to testicular cancer. And kidney tumors linked to blue coloring. Food dyes have been associated with chromosomal damage, adrenal, thyroid, and brain tumors, and a whole host of health, behavior, and learning issues in children like hyperactivity, anaphylaxis, and impulse control.

After decades of wondering, while the inclusion of synthetic dyes steadily rose in an increasing number of processed foods (doubling just since 1990), last week the FDA decided to take a look at the issue. The advisory panel tasked with its review found the evidence to be ‘inconclusive,’ recommending that the agency continue its hands-off approach.

Bear in mind that countries throughout Europe have banned most artificial dyes based on the same evidence. Food manufacturers, including American giants like Kraft, Kellogg’s, and McDonald’s have reformulated their products with natural alternatives for the European market, while they continue to sell foods with the questionable ingredients to the U.S. market. Imagine, there are actual strawberries coloring a U.K. McDonald’s strawberry sundae and orange soda gets its color from  pumpkin and carrot extract, instead of the FD&C Red Dye #40  and Yellow #6  that we get.

It’s not just day-glo Popsicles and rainbow Skittles.
It’s estimated that a young child with a taste for fast- and processed foods could be eating as much as a pound of food dye every year. But well beyond the usual suspects you’ll find food dyes in a staggering array of foods like canned fruit, fresh oranges, chocolate milk, salad dressing, ginger ale, cookies and bread, chips and crackers, even matzoh balls. Oy veh.

Food dyes contribute nothing to the nutritional value or safety of food, existing only as a marketing tool, mostly to make highly-processed foods more appealing to children. Even if the evidence has been termed ‘inconclusive,’ we’re still looking at potential health consequences. Why risk it?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest was instrumental in reopening the FDA debate over food dyes. Read their full report: Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.

 

 

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Marching on its Stomach

Battle of the Bulge

15% of 17- to 24-year-olds are over the Army’s height-weight standards.
Last year, half of all recruits failed the entry-level physical fitness test consisting of one minute of push-ups, one minute of sit-ups and a 1-mile run.
Is anyone surprised? They’ve been plumped up by fast food and soda and spent their teenage years playing video games.

With an all-volunteer military, you have to give them 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 includes 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 new recruits into shape for duty, the Army is rolling out its new Soldier Athlete initiative at bases where 10-week basic training takes place. It bans soda, cookies, and cake, and limits refined grains and fried food offerings. In their place are beefed-up salad bar offerings, low-fat milk and yogurt, and more fish, fruits, and vegetables. Unfortunately, once basic training is complete, the soldiers are back in mess halls where the sausage gravy flows freely. They’ve completed a total of one hour of nutrition guidance out of  their 754 training hours of coursework.

About a third of everyone in uniform doesn’t meet military height and weight standards, and half of that group qualifies as obese. Overweight troops that can’t shed the pounds can be discharged—a fate that befalls a few thousand every year. In December, Army Times published an exposé of the extreme methods that officers undertake to meet fitness standards so they can maintain their careers—diet pills, laxatives, crash diets, and even liposuction are becoming increasingly common.

Obviously this is not just a military problem, but a national problem. In a press conference, Senator Richard Lugar, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, and a group of retired generals and admirals warned that the civilian diet could someday pose a threat to homeland security—they see us raising an entire generation that might never attain the fitness necessary for military service.

 

 

 

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Effortless Weight Loss with a Stomach Pacemaker

Belly casting by Dorota Quiroz

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If you could conjure up the ideal way to lose weight, I’ll bet it wouldn’t include counting carbs and calories.
There would be no hunger or sense of deprivation. You wouldn’t have to take a drug that leaves you sleepless and wired at night, and it would be less drastic than bariatric surgery.
In other words, you would conjure up a way to eat less with even trying.

An appetite-curbing pacemaker developed in Silicon Valley seems to fit the bill. It has already passed clinical trials and is available in Europe; we should start to see it in the U.S. around 2014.  […]

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Bedtime Snack: 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 particularly 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.

 

Posted in diversions, food knowledge | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Brace Yourself: Your Man Might Be a Vegan

image via Vegan Soapbox

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The tell-tale signs:

Does the man in your life know the proper pronunciation of quinoa?
Has he ever come home with a guilty look and the smell of wheat grass on his breath?
Does he think it’s cute when you refer to lentils as legumes (Silly girl, they’re pulses!) and get hot and bothered when you wear your organic cotton t shirt?
I hate to be the one to break it to you, but your man is a vegan. […]

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Kids are Bad for Your Diet

[image via Mojo Mom]

For breakfast, you pour a glass of organic milk to go with a bowl of steel cut oats with honey and sliced banana.
You pack a brown bag lunch with turkey and sprouts in a whole wheat pita and an apple.
That’s how the kids are eating. You, on the other hand, grab a latte on your way to work, and if you’re lucky someone brought in donuts today. Lunch? Who has the time?

It’s official: kids are bad for your diet.
It seems counter-intuitive when you’ve made the house an official soda-free zone and your refrigerator overflows with free range chicken, carrot sticks, and lowfat yogurt. But a study published in the December issue of the European Review of Agricultural Economics found that households without children are healthier eaters. A lot healthier.

7,014 families were involved in the study. After controlling for income, age and other socioeconomic factors that sway purchasing decisions, it found that in a two week period, each member of a childless household consumed 4.4 more pounds of fruits and vegetables than their counterparts with kids.

What’s going on here?
Are parents just big hypocrites who pop Swedish fish by the hand full while they scrutinize labels for hidden sodium and trans fats? Maybe parents are skimping on time and money for their own diets to afford the best for their kids; certainly time and money need to be stretched further in households with children.

It doesn’t matter as much as you might think.
A Johns Hopkins University study that appeared in November’s Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health claims that contrary to popular opinion, parents aren’t really much of an influence on what their kids are eating. Government guidelines and policies that regulate school meals, peer influence, advertising, and a host of factors in the broader food environment all play important roles in forming children’s eating habits.

Don’t run for the Swedish fish just yet.
This doesn’t let parents off the hook. A permissive manner and a house stocked with junk food are still ill-advised, and positive modeling does matter—just not as much as we might wish. And the benefits of good nutrition are kind of like the oxygen masks on an airplane: parents still need to put theirs on first so that they can be there to take care of their kids.

 

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How Much of Your Life is Spent Eating?

image via Harvey Ralph

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Americans spend less time eating than just about anyone else on the planet. We’re also among the most overweight.

A graph has been making the rounds.
Taking data from a study conducted by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, it plots minutes spent eating per day versus national obesity rates (based on a body mass index of 30 or more). In the US, our eating and drinking add up to 75 minutes a day. We edge out portly Mexicans and Canadians, but don’t come close to the 2+ daily dining hours of the slender French. […]

Posted in fast food, food knowledge, health + diet | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Gastro Meets Astro: A Taste of the Zodiac

image via Catgirl Rulezz

What’s your food sign?
Aries likes it hot, spicy, and on the table fast.
Libra has a sweet tooth.
Aquarius will show up late for dinner, but Pisces will get there early and be ready to help in the kitchen. Sagittarius will be the last to leave the table but the first to hit the gym afterwards. […]

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Are Celebrities Giving Us Food Allergies?

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Fame, fortune, and tree nuts.
Except for the richer/thinner/better-looking thing, celebrities are just like us. And just like us, they can have food allergies. Or think they do. The difference is that they talk about them on Entertainment Tonight and in the pages of People Magazine.
Now the medical community is wondering if the media attention is swelling the number of wrongly self-diagnosed food allergies in the rest of us. […]

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Resolutions: Resist the Urge

image via TheResurgance.com

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New Years resolutions are a sucker’s bet.
We all know it. Even so, there’s something about the next year’s calendar with all its small, clean squares so full of potential.
Resist the urge.
Make plans, not resolutions. Lay foundations instead of boundaries. […]

Posted in health + diet, New Years | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Holiday Weight Gain: Fact or fiction?

How about the good news first…

Reports of holiday weight gain have been greatly exaggerated. The perception is that we really pack on the pounds at holiday time. The reality (according to the National Institutes of Health) is a typical weight gain of between 0.4 and 1.8 pounds— just about one pound on average. Despite six weeks of free-flowing eggnog from Thanksgiving through New Years, the typical weight gain is surprisingly small— except for the already-overweight who tend to add something like five pounds during the holidays.

And the bad news…

It may be a mere pound, but the weight adds up. […]

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Count Chocula’s New Year’s Resolution

image via Serious Play for Serious Girls

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Beginning next year, General Mills will be limiting the sugar in its children’s cereals to no more than 10 grams per serving.
10 grams is 3½ teaspoons of sugar, representing one-third by weight of the serving. Even so, this is no easy feat for the maker of Trix, Lucky Charms, and Count Chocula.
But it is also just a smoke screen obscuring the real issue of unethical marketing to children. […]

Posted in food business, health + diet | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Big Plate Big Meal (Big Butt)

[plate-butt.png]

image via Beard Crumbs

We’ve all heard the statistics about how often we think of sex, but what about food?
Studies have shown that we face an average of 226 food-related choices in a day, but we are only conscious of our decision making in about 15 of them. That’s more than 200 mindless decisions of the what-when-where-how much-who with of food occurring each day. It’s helping yourself to seconds because the bowl is right there; taking a gulp of orange juice because you saw the carton when you opened the refrigerator; or a doughnut because someone brought a box into the office. Scientists refer to these as environmental cues, and when we aren’t mindful, they rule our food choices. […]

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How Did Rich and Fat Become Rich and Thin?

image via Mannequin Madness

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Richer, thinner, younger, smarter; what if you could change one thing about yourself? Which would you choose?

A recent Harris Poll asked this question.

Not surprisingly, given the current economic climate, richer was the top choice. But thinner came in a strong second picked by one in five respondents overall, and one in four women.

We tend to forget that this has not always been so. […]

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Take the Quiz: Healthy Diet or Eating Disorder?

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Do You Have Orthorexia?

Here’s a quiz (isn’t there’s always a quiz?)

Give yourself a point for each yes answer.

A score of four or more means that you are at risk for orthorexia nervosa. If all 10 of these statements apply to you, you don’t have a life – you have a regimen.

  • Are you spending more than three hours a day thinking about healthy food?
  • Are you planning tomorrow’s menu today?
  • Is the virtue you feel about what you eat more important than the pleasure you receive from eating it?
  • Has the quality of your life decreased as the quality of your diet increased?
  • Have you become stricter with yourself?
  • Does your self-esteem get a boost from eating healthy?
  • Do you look down on others who don’t eat this way? Do you skip foods you once enjoyed in order to eat the ‘right’ foods?
  • Does your diet make it difficult for you to eat anywhere but at home, distancing you from friends and family?
  • Do you feel guilt or self-loathing when you stray from your diet?
  • When you eat the way you’re supposed to, do you feel in total control? […]
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