It’s not even December 1 and I have been seeing a non-stop stream of ads, posts and recommended links on all manner of cleanses. Some are short, some are long, some are liquid, and some are minimal. All are useless.
Timothey Caulfield at the University of Alberta debunks the latest holiday cleanses in this article. Caulfield writes:
The idea that we need to cleanse and detoxify our bodies seems to have become a culturally accepted fact. This feels especially true around the holidays which are associated with heavy foods and even heavier shame about what that turkey and gravy and wine might be doing to our insides. After a weekend of indulgence, wellness gurus cry, your body is begging for a detox. But is it?
While there is something to be said for countering a week (or two) of indulgence with lighter fare, unless you were born liver-less or you lost your liver along the way, the human body has its own detox system right inside you: the aforementioned liver and kidneys.
There’s a huge market out there and if you build it, make it, sell it, they will come. The promises are endless but the long and short of it is simple: today’s cleanses and detox programs are primarily designed to relieve you of your money.
The sellers of these cleanses rely on fear and vanity, and also on society’s preoccupation on thinness. The messages are often wrapped upin social beliefs about health and wellness.
We empower people to take charge of their health, especially women who are often responsible for managing their well being along with those of their families. Who wants to be known as someone who does not care about their health? Not me.
While the social imperative to diet, to cleanse, to eat clean is present year-round, there seems to be special pressure in December to do any number of things to ensure we have the perfect body.
All the ads I have seen lead me to believe that we must cleanse the body the same way we cleanse our homes for special occasions this time of year. In January, when the new year has begun and we barely have had time to vacuum the pine needles and expunge the last piece of glitter from our homes, we get a different chorus but still with the same tune.
I suggest, if we are to cleanse anything, it is these sorts of unhelpful and unhealthy approaches to wellness.
So if you are confused and challenged by all that you see, remember this: everything in moderation. Your body will do what it needs to do. Fuel it appropriately. Move lots (preferably outside if it isn’t blowing a gale). Get lots of sleep. Drink lots of water. Have fun.
Cooking shows… some are great and some less so, but many of them – at least until recently – have had one thing in common: if they were about high-level cuisine, they were mostly male (and white). If they were about everyday home cooking, they were mostly female (and also white). In the past couple of years or so, this has slowly begun to change. Netflix has been at the forefront of this development with its original productions. Ugly Delicious was still mostly male, but at least less white. Chef’s Tablestill explores a lot of male, Western white chefs, but also really interesting women and people from countries outside of the traditional Michelin star circuit (Ana Roš from Slovenia, for instance, Musa Dağdeviren from Turkey, or Cristina Martínez, a Mexican chef living in the US undocumented).
But BAM, up shows Samin Nosrat, author of Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, and with her Netflix-produced show of the same name, changes everything we know to be true about cooking shows. Nosrat, an American of Iranian descent, explores these four key elements of great cooking through the lenses of different countries. The Salt episode takes place mostly in Japan. For Fat, she goes to Italy. Acid is set in Mexico, and finally Heat focuses on her own kitchen. She is genuinely curious and appreciative of everything the locals she interviews for her show tell her, and constantly relates it back to her own culinary upbringing, but without overpowering the stories of her interview partners.
She’s unapologetic about her own enjoyment of food. Samin Nosrat’s relationship to eating seems so healthy and natural. It’s so good! she exclaims again and again, and you can’t not start salivating as you watch. I mean, imagine – a whole episode about fat without one single remark along the lines of ‘guilty pleasures’, ‘I shouldn’t really’, ‘just this once’…?! In a cooking show presented by a woman? This is unheard of. She even asks for more. This is how it should be, but too many times sadly it’s not.
In a world where women are constantly shamed for enjoying food, where exercise is frequently framed in terms of dieting and weight loss (women must work out so they can eat), and where talking about food in public is still defined by gender and racial stereotypes, Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is huge. It’s refreshing, genuine, and heartwarming. Highly recommended! Also, you can get some of the recipes from the show on its website. A-ma-zing.
(Other people have written much more eloquently than I ever could about the impact of this show, see e.g. here, and here.)
Hey everyone! Exciting times. I’m going to be one of the speakers at the New Jersey VegFest at Meadowlands Expo Centre this weekend. My talk, “Feminist Fitness Is for Everyone, including Vegans,” is at 1 p.m. on Saturday, October 6th. I’ll talk about what feminist fitness is, how Sam and I took that approach for our Fittest by 50 Challenge, the blog, the book, and being a vegan athlete at mid-life. They’ll be selling copies of Fit at Mid-Life: A Feminist Fitness Journey (Greystone Books, 2018) and I’ll be sticking around after my talk to chat, sign books (whether you buy it there or bring it with you), and of course eat! [I might also talk a little bit about my next book project, which is about ethical veganism and the expectation of moral perfection that vegans and non-vegans alike seem to adopt]
Marisa Sweeney and Kendra Arnold are the two main organizers and ever since they asked me to do this I’ve been following the NJ VegFest scene with envy. It’s not limited to this event — there was an Atlantic City VegFest in the summer (with a 10K run) where Scott Jurek spoke. Marisa and Kendra do an outstanding job and I can’t wait to experience one of their events first hand and to meet them.
It looks as if it’s going to be an amazing time, quite apart from my talk. There are going to be chef demos, other speakers, and loads of vendors serving up delicious vegan food. If you want to get a preview, I suggest following @njvegfest on Instagram.
One of the things Sam and I love most about the blog is the community that has sprung up around us. If you do decide to come, please please please say “hi.” I would love that.
I also have a favour to ask of people who live in the Manhattan area. Anita and I will be looking for a good running route on Sunday morning to do about 15K. If you have any recommendations for where we might do that distance without encountering too many traffic lights we’d love to hear from you.
Food researcher and Cornell Professor Brian Wansink, author of the popular book Mindless Eating, has been in the news lately. 13 of his published articles have been retracted by peer-reviewed journals, including 6 articles retracted by JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). They were retracted because several researchers found inconsistencies and major methodological flaws in the work.
What does this mean? Things like using the same data to test multiple research questions (also called p-hacking), not keeping track of original data, and using the same results across multiple papers, mixing them in with other data and offering inconsistent reports on them. All in pursuit of a statistically significant result that confirms the researcher’s intuition about what’s going on.
After detailed investigation by researchers, the journals, and also by Cornell, Brian Wansink resigned from the university.
You may have read or seen his work on how we can eat less by doing some of the following:
use smaller bowls and plates
use lighter-colored bowls and plates
don’t eat while watching action shows on TV
don’t buy large-sized containers of food (like those sold at warehouse stores)
put apples on the kitchen counter
put snacks into 100-calorie portions for eating
Wansink is perhaps most famous for his “Bottomless soup bowl” experiment. His group set up 4-person tables with soup bowls for people to come in and eat the soup. Secretly, they rigged one of the bowls with a tube that made that soup bowl keep from emptying (up to about a liter). They noted how much soup everyone ate. Their result: people who ate from the rigged soup bowl consumed 73% more soup than the other people. You can find more about the study here.
I’m very disheartened by Wansink’s academic misconduct for a lot of reasons. First, I was really impressed by his research more than 10 years ago; it confirmed what I thought, namely that our food environment influences what and how and when and how much we eat. This is still broadly true, by the way. However, the specific results Wansink provided (like that people eat more chicken wings in restaurants when you take away the bones as they are eating) may not be true.
I’ve cited Wansink’s articles dozens of times in my own published research. I’m going to have to rethink how to respond to their invalidation. Also, I’ve spent some time at Wansink’s Food and Brand Lab at Cornell, and talked with him about our overlapping research interests. He’s enthusiastic about his work, ambitious about getting his message out to the public, and has been very effective in publicity.
But the biggest problem is this: what to do with all his advice about portion sizes, plate sizes, moving foods around in my eating world to highlight carrots and hide cookies?
What can we know now? What can we rely on now?
Now, you might be thinking: Catherine, get a grip. One researcher goes down in flames, and you’re saying we don’t know anything anymore. How about try this:
Yes, yes, you’re right. I’m calming down now.
Doing good research is hard, requiring rigorous adherence to methodological standards, a high tolerance for failure, and the stamina to keep going.
For us, the food eaters, we don’t need rigor in order to eat successfully. We’ve written about eating mindfully, following plans, discarding plans, considering the ethical import of what we eat, and we’ve come to the conclusion that one plan doesn’t fit all.
But I really really wanted some plans that did fit all. Just saying. And I’m not happy.
Well, like it or not, it’s back to the kitchen, with an open mind.
What about you, dear readers? Did any of you know about or use Wansink’s work? What do you think now? I’d love to hear from you.
I don’t usually share tweets and Twitter threads but sometimes they are so good you need to make an exception.
This thread from the Fat Nutritionist came to my attention via David. Thks David!
“I suspect that like 95% of the food choices people make (when they have the luxury of choice) are purely symbolic. I suspect this because “How does this food affect your body’s functioning?” is a completely new idea to nearly everyone I ask it of.”
We blog a lot about working out and different kinds of training here. And lately with all the book media Sam and I have talked quite a bit about our Fittest by 50 Challenge. One of my proudest achievements, that I started back at in earnest during the Challenge, had nothing to do with workouts and training. It was putting the scale away, stopping tracking and monitoring food in an external way, and committing to the principles of Intuitive Eating. As I reported as last summer drew to an end, it only took 27 years but I finally made it! And I’m happy to say that I’m still there. No longer do I obsess about what I’m going to eat, when I’m going to eat it and how much of it I’m going to consume! Yay for freedom from obsession! p.s. I realize it’s not an approach for everyone but it’s definitely changed my life (made me a lot happier). Here’s last summer’s post about it. If you’ve spent your life obsessed with food, eating, and weight, it may be worth a shot. #tbt
Image description: Colour photo of three small chocolate bowls, each filled with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, on white plates with blue and gold around the edges.
It sort of snuck up on me. I’ve known about “intuitive eating” for over 25 years. When I was a graduate student in Cambridge, MA, I used to browse the shelves at Wordsworth Books looking for something, anything, that might help me lose my obsession with food and weight and dieting. Like many of us, I tried diets, thinking that if I could just lose the weight I’d stop obsessing. That didn’t work. Even when I lost the weight I didn’t stop obsessing. A lot of the time I didn’t lose the weight anyway. And the attempts to lose it just increased my obsession with food.
At some point in the very early nineties, I stumbled upon a new approach — intuitive eating
I don’t know if it’s a real day, but apparently May 11th was National Eat What You Want Day. I missed it.
I get my info mostly from this:
Okay, I get that this cartoon is supposed to be a joke. And though I am not familiar with Sandra Boynton’s body of work, a reader of the blog got in touch with me to say her work “is consistently affirming, food positive, body positive, women positive and [she] deserves credit for her work in this post.” So yes: credit where credit is due.
And perhaps in the larger context of Boynton’s work, this is whimsical, funny, and affirming. I can see that. But when I first encountered it, it gave me pause because of the way it represented what Eat What You Want Day would look like. I’m told too that the day apparently originated as a response to our diet-laden cultural mindset. It’s a way of breaking free. And that’s a good thing. But only for a day? Seriously? I want to say: that’s not enough.
First, every day is an eat what you want day as far as I’m concerned. It’s not just because I’m an intuitive eater. It’s also because we’re adults and we get to make our own decisions about what we eat. Literally, at every moment, you get to choose what you want to eat. So do I. And so does the person in front of you in the line up at the coffee shop who wants an apple fritter for breakfast instead of the egg white frittata.
Second, why does everyone always assume that if we eat whatever we want we will choose to eat only cookies, cakes, candy, and chocolate? This narrative is a product of the deprivation mentality that is entirely encouraged in our society. Since veggies and fruits and all that other “healthy” stuff is what we “should” be eating (RULES!), all the fun food is what we actually want to be eating (BREAK THE RULES!).
I venture that if we only have one day where we give ourselves permission to eat what we want and if the rest of the days we are eating plain salads where the only dressing we get is the one tablespoonful that we get to dip our fork into before spearing each cucumber slice (if you’ve ever dieted you’ve done this, right?), then when we take away the rules we’re going to go for the flavour burst foods that we’re not “allowed” to eat.
But if that stuff was always on offer, without the rules, it would lose its lustre after awhile. I know this from experience. When I was a grad student my housemate and I experimented with a candy bowl as part of an assignment given to my by the amazing psychotherapist who was trying to help me recover from disordered eating and chronic dieting.
We were to keep the bowl heaped full. Just buying those mini-chocolate bars to fill it gave us an adrenaline rush. And the first week or say we went to town on those candies. We had to fill up the bowl quite a bit. Less so the second week. By the third and fourth week we weren’t as interested anymore. And today I always have a few chocolate bars on hand that I keep in a bin and that last months. Because sometimes I want salad or hummus or a farro bowl with steamed rapini and stir-fried tofu drizzled with tahini and Frank’s Red Hot, not a piece of dark chocolate-dipped crystallized ginger.
Third, this brings me to the point I really want to make, and that we’ve made many times on the blog before, in various forms: food is beyond good and evil. You’re not morally good if you eat a salad and morally bad if you eat fries. Steamed broccoli isn’t virtuous and banana tempura in syrup isn’t sinful and decadent. It’s food. You can eat it if you like.
I just despise food policing, the food police, and any kind of moralizing about food (other than vegan moralizing, which I’m totally down with even if I tend to stay silent unless asked or unless it’s totally relevant and people are saying ridiculous things to defend their participation in unnecessary animal cruelty…oops). Susan shared a story yesterday with the other blog authors about how she was at a coffee shop (buying a muffin) and a woman came in and literally lectured the owner about how muffins are cake.
You know what? Cake is awesome. So simply telling me that muffins are cake makes me want to say, “And your point is…?” All over the world people eat pastries and stuff for breakfast. If you’re eating muffins because you’re counting calories or fat grams and you think they’re low in those, then you might want to think again. But if you’re eating the because you like them, which is basically the best reason to eat whatever we eat, then someone telling you muffins are cake might go a long way to explaining why they’re so damned delicious.
I’m not the only one on the blog who feels this way about food policing. Here are some of our posts about this topic, gathered in one place, for your reading pleasure. Next time the food police make an appearance, ignore them, refer them to the blog, or tell them to go ahead and arrest you for taking pleasure in your food choices!
Disclaimer: I’m not discounting that some of us may have added reasons not to eat some foods. If I was diabetic, I would need to be careful about sugar. I do have a garlic intolerance that means I cannot deal with anything other than trace amounts of cooked garlic and almost no amount of raw garlic. That doesn’t make me want garlic. Also, there are ethical reasons for avoiding some foods. I’m an ethical vegan who pretty consistently avoids animal products because of my beliefs about the industry’s impact on the environment and my desire not to contribute to animal suffering and exploitation (two hallmarks of industrial animal agriculture). That’s a reason. And it doesn’t make me want filet mignon and veal parmesan.