Flavor Is Nutrition

When I say “rice and beans”, what does it evoke for you? Easy? Inexpensive? Perhaps “bland”? These are all common responses to this question. Hardly anyone ever says “delicious”, “flavorful”, or “amazing”. Rice and beans is a dish firmly entrenched in the “practical” category, not the take-your-breath-away sensory-delight category.

I recently shared a meal with a few vegetarian acquaintances (I personally eat as an omnivore) who wanted to have rice and beans. One of them brought a recipe and we went with it. Well, wow, my first bite was, in fact, amazing! Delicious! So full of flavor!

All in one bite, I enjoyed the luxurious flavors of cilantro, coriander, cumin, various chili peppers, garlic, the juice of a lime, and more.

It wasn’t the rice and beans that were so good, it was these spectacular seasonings. With each bite, the flavors increasingly mixed and played off each other. It was a true sensory, sensuous, sensual delight. In retrospect, even preparing the meal was a party for my senses. We used very fresh seasonings. Cilantro we diced that evening. Coriander and cumin seeds we toasted and then ground up in a mortar and pestle. Several different kinds of chili peppers we roasted and diced ourselves. Garlic from our local farmers’ market also freshly diced. My kitchen became the canvas for the artwork of these beautiful colors, shapes, textures, aromas, and eventually tastes.

I’ve enjoyed these seasonings before, of course, but this evening they really stood out with rice and beans as their background and my expectation of a somewhat bland meal. Granted, I’m not talking about the years-old spices your grandmother stored in the back of her pantry, the ones with dust on the jars. We used very fresh foods as our seasonings, foods that had so much life in them. And not only was this meal super tasty, I felt great eating it and afterward.

Could these hyper-tasty foods also be good for us? It would certainly make sense, but it’s not what many people have come to believe in our culture. I know many people who believe with every fabric of their being that:

1. If it tastes good, it’s bad for you.
2. If it tastes bad, it’s good for you.

Could this really be nature’s design? Would nature really put all the flavor into foods designed to give us cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dementia, cancer, and other diseases? That wouldn’t seem an intelligent design. What if all the things that were good for us felt terrible? What is sleep was exhausting? What if sex was annoying? What if nourishing food was tasteless? It just doesn’t make sense.

Science confirms that herbs, spices, and other seasonings, foods that add so much flavor to our dishes and meals, are potent sources of life-giving nutrients that boost our wellness (1):

“Herbs and spices have been used since ancient times to not only improve the flavor of edible food but also to prevent and treat chronic health maladies. While the scientific evidence for the use of such common herbs and medicinal plants then had been scarce or lacking, the beneficial effects observed from such use were generally encouraging. It is, therefore, not surprising that the tradition of using such herbs, perhaps even after the advent of modern medicine, has continued. More recently, due to an increased interest in understanding the nutritional effects of herbs/spices more comprehensively, several studies have examined the cellular and molecular modes of action of the active chemical components in herbs and their biological properties. Beneficial actions of herbs/spices include anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant, anti-hypertensive, gluco-regulatory, and anti-thrombotic effects. One major component of herbs and spices is the polyphenols. Some of the aforementioned properties are attributed to the polyphenols and they are associated with attenuating the metabolic syndrome. Detrimental changes associated with the metabolic syndrome over time affect brain and cognitive function. Metabolic syndrome and type-2 diabetes are also risk factors for Alzheimer’s disease and stroke. In addition, the neuroprotective effects of herbs and spices have been demonstrated and, whether directly or indirectly, such beneficial effects may also contribute to an improvement in cognitive function.”

Antiinflammatory, antihypertensive, antioxidant, antithrombotic, glucoregulatory, and delicious—now that makes sense! It turns out, flavor is nutrition.

Another element had our rice and beans really singing that evening—guacamole! “Holy guacamole” is one of the most well-crafted catch phrases. I can’t think of anything more holy than guacamole and the guac we made to go with our rice and beans was as good as life gets. Rich, creamy, a little bit chunky—wonderful.

Photo 131--Guacamole

And full of fat. Most of the energy in an avocado, the main ingredient in guacamole, comes from fat.

Now, if you’ve been under your desk since the 80s hiding from the communists, you might still think fat kills. I grew up deathly afraid of both the Russians and butter, so I get it. I drank the Kool-Aid too: Fat makes you fat and sick. But back to intelligent design, why would nature make avocado trees that bear avocados as fruit, make this fruit delicious, and load the fruit with poison? The same goes for olives, another fruit, and nuts and seeds, all full of fat. Many animal foods contain fat as well. Did nature put these foods here as toxins to keep those of us who enjoy the flavors of these foods from winning swimsuit competitions and living past our 50s? It just doesn’t add up.

Science, again, reveals a great deal:

“Avocados have a high content of phytochemicals especially antioxidants with potential neuroprotective effect. Aging is the major risk factor for neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. A large body of evidence indicates that oxidative stress is involved in the pathophysiology of these diseases. Oxidative stress can induce neuronal damages and modulate intracellular signaling, ultimately leading to neuronal death by apoptosis or necrosis. There is evidence for increased oxidative damage to macromolecules in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Huntington’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, and Alzheimer’s disease. Thus, antioxidants have been used for their effectiveness in reducing these deleterious effects and neuronal death in many in vitro and in vivo studies. The critical review results indicate that compounds in avocado are unique antioxidants, preferentially suppressing radical generation, and thus may be promising as effective neuropreventive agents. The diverse array of bioactive nutrients present in avocado plays a pivotal role in the prevention and cure of various neurodegenerative diseases.” (2)

Go avocados!

“Frequent nut consumption has been associated with better metabolic status, decreased body weight as well as lower body weight gain over time and thus reduce the risk of obesity.” (3)

“Thus, findings from cohort studies show that increased nut consumption is associated with a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality (especially that due to cardiovascular-related causes). Similarly, nut consumption has been also associated with reduced risk of certain cancers, such as colorectal, endometrial, and pancreatic neoplasms.” (3)

“Nuts therefore show promise as useful adjuvants to prevent, delay or ameliorate a number of chronic conditions in older people. Their association with decreased mortality suggests a potential in reducing disease burden, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, and cognitive impairments.” (3)

That’s nuts!

“An intervention with MedDiets [Mediterranean diets] enhanced with either EVOO [extra-virgin olive oil] or nuts appears to improve cognition compared with a low-fat diet.” (4)

“Among persons at high cardiovascular risk, a Mediterranean diet supplemented with extra-virgin olive oil or nuts reduced the incidence of major cardiovascular events.” (5)

Wow, fat is looking pretty good, right?

“Randomized trials are the preferable method to evaluate the effect of dietary fat on adiposity and are feasible because the number of subjects needed is not large. In short-term trials, a modest reduction in body weight is typically seen in individuals randomized to diets with a lower percentage of calories from fat. However, compensatory mechanisms appear to operate, because in randomized trials lasting >or=1 [sic] year, fat consumption within the range of 18% to 40% of energy appears to have little if any effect on body fatness.” (6)

“Moreover, within the United States, a substantial decline in the percentage of energy from fat during the last 2 decades has corresponded with a massive increase in the prevalence of obesity.” (6)

“Diets high in fat do not appear to be the primary cause of the high prevalence of excess body fat in our society, and reductions in fat will not be a solution.” (6)

Well, there you have it, these delicious fatty foods are also life-giving foods. And not according to the tabloids, according to the likes of The New England Journal of Medicine. This makes sense, of course, since they’re whole, natural, real foods. Fat is a nutrient, just like protein and carbohydrate. And nature is smart, wicked smart as we say in New England. Flavor is nutrition. High five, Nature! That’s intelligent design.

(1) Beneficial Effects of Herbs, Spices and Medicinal Plants on the Metabolic Syndrome, Brain and Cognitive Function. Central Nervous System Agents in Medicinal Chemistry, 2013, 13(1), 13-29.
(2) Avocado as a Major Dietary Source of Antioxidants and Its Preventive Role in Neurodegenerative Diseases. Advances in Neurobiology, 2016, 12, 337-354.
(3) Nut Consumption and Age-Related Disease. Maturitas, 2016, 84, 11-16.
(4) Mediterranean Diet Improves Cognition: The PREDIMED-NAVARRA Randomised Trial. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, and Psychiatry, 2013, 84(12), 1,318-1,325.
(5) Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease with a Mediterranean Diet. The New (6) England Journal of Medicine, 2013, 368(14), 1,279-1,290.
Dietary Fat Is Not a Major Determinant of Body Fat. The American Journal of Medicine, 2002, 113(S9B), 47-59.


A Powerful Wellness Lesson from Our Past

I had a spectacular conversation with a friend recently. It went roughly like this:

Me: “What’s up Hip-Hop? How are things on the Waterfront?”

Hip-Hop: “Great, man. I love it here. I love the smells of the ocean, the breezes, the people. It reminds of the time I spent in Greece. How are you? What’s new?”

Me: “Well, I have lots of exciting stuff going on. But, first, I really want to ask you about the study published in JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association recently. The one on drugs. Have you read it? (1)”

Hip-Hop: “Oh, the trends in heroin use?”

Me: “No, prescription drugs.”

Hip-Hop: “No, I haven’t seen that one yet. Do tell.”

Me: “This is big, Hip-Hop! They studied prescription drug use here in the United States. In 2000, 51 percent of adults in the United States were on at least one medication. In 2012, it’s up to 59 percent, an eight percent increase in those 12 years!” (1)

Hip-Hop: “Yikes! Something isn’t right; you people aren’t very well.”

Me: “What do you mean ‘you people’? You’re one of us now.”

Hip-Hop: “You know I’m just visiting, brother. I’m content to stay in the spirit world for a while longer and keeping checking out Earth to see what’s going on these days.”

Me: “But you’re still planning to come back, right? You can’t remain a ghost forever.”

Night Walk Man Alleyway Scary Alone Ghost

Hip-Hop: “Yes, like I told you last week, I’m in the process of filling out my reincarnation application, but it’s going to take me a little longer, then I still have to see if I get accepted.”

Me: “Hip-Hop, we need people like you. I’m sure you’re going to get in.”

Hip-Hop: “Thanks for vote of confidence, J. I’m certainly doing my very best.”

Me: “We could use you, and, personally, you know I’d love to spend some time with you in your flesh, so to speak.”

Hip-Hop: “I know. I appreciate your friendship too.”

Me: “So what do you make of this dramatic rise of drug use we’re experiencing? Use of antihypertensives increased from 20 to 27 percent, use of antihyperlipidemics increased from seven to 17 percent (more than double), and use of and antidepressants increased from seven to 13 percent (almost double) in that time.” (1)

Hip-Hop: “What do I make of it? Your hearts are broken for one; the numbers don’t lie. And the ways you’re living aren’t in harmony with nature, so you’re creating all this disease. It’s obvious: You need to take better care of yourselves and one another.”

Me: Yeah. “For sure. That’s what I’m working on, you know. It’s my life’s work.”

Hip-Hop: “Stick with it, brother. Keep facilitating the self-care movement. Help people thrive. You know that’s how it works. People who thrive don’t get sick. Those drugs have their place, of course. It’s how heavily you all are relying on them that’s scary. It’s a canary in a coal mine. Something isn’t right if the rate of drug use is increasing that fast. People really aren’t meeting their needs.”

Me: “It gets worse. One of the other startling results from the study was the increase in polypharmacy.”

Hip-Hop: “That’s a thing?”

Me: “Yeah, it was new to me too. You’re considered polypharmic if you’re on five or more prescription drugs. In the 12-year study period, polypharmacy increased from eight to 15 percent (almost double).” (1)

Hip-Hop: “Yikes, I guess the poly lifestyle isn’t for me. There’s nothing sexy about being on five medications.”

Me: “No, I wouldn’t say so, Hip-Hop, you smart ass.”

Hip-Hop: “So much can be done to prevent disease. It’s all in how you all are living. I see it every day. Even the people here on vacation look stressed. You’ve got to get back to basics. Enjoy moving around, eat from this ocean and this land, get plenty of sleep and rest; you know what I’m talking about.”

Me: “You’re preaching to the choir, Hip-Hop. I’m working on this with everything I have. I’ll be back at it tomorrow.”

Hip-Hop: “I know you will, my friend. I know you will.”

Hip-Hop: “Hey, speaking of living well, we’re getting together for oysters Friday, right?”

Me: “Yeah, you’re on. I can’t wait. Catch you later.”

Hip-Hop: “Catch you later, bro.”

Hip-Hop: “Goot, wait. I forgot; I’ve got a gift for you.”

Me: “Really? I like gifts.”

Hip-Hop:” I made up these t-shirts and I have one for you. Here.”

Me: “Oh, I love it. It’s so you. Thanks, Hip-Hop.”

I put on my new t-shirt right away and headed off empowered by some of my friend’s favorite sayings.

On the front of my new t-shirt, it read:

“Walking is man’s best medicine.” (circa 300 B.C.E.)
–Hippocrates of Kos (“Father of Modern Medicine”)

On the back of my new t-shirt, it read:

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” (circa 300 B.C.E.)
–Hippocrates of Kos (“Father of Modern Medicine”)

(1) Trends in Prescription Drug Use Among Adults in the United States from 1999-2012. JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, 2015, 314(17), 1,818-1,830.


Is “Life” Getting in the Way of Your LIFE?

“I want to exercise more, but I can’t seem to find the time. Life keeps getting in the way.”

“I get together with my old friends once a year. I miss the days when I had great community and friends in my life, but life makes it really hard.”

“I know I should sleep more. Ugh, life is so busy.”

“I’d really like to move into work I love to do, but life takes priority right now, you know what I mean?”

Not exactly. What’s this “life” you speak of? Can you hold it in your hands? What color is it? What does it smell like? What does it sound like? How does it feel on your skin? Can you show it to me?

It’s a construct you’ve made up, that many people have collectively made up and you’ve agreed to. It’s no more real than Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. It’s not a very benevolent construct. Its primary role is to tell you what you can’t do. Specifically, it tells you that you can’t do the things you want to do because it’s the priority.

Is “life” really a thing? Does a person show up at your home in the morning wearing a Patriots jersey with the name “Life” on the back above the number 44? Does this person handcuff you and drag you to a job you hate? Does this person make you live where you live? Does this person crush your desires and intentions? Does this Life character control you?

It might seem this way, I get it. But I don’t accept it. Because this “life” you’re letting control you, is stealing your LIFE. The LIFE you feel when you’re engaged in work your love. The LIFE you experience when you’re with your close ones. The LIFE you experience when you’re full of vitality and fitness. That’s LIFE.

Photo 129--Two People Laughing

That’s the gal that shows up at my home each morning, “LIFE” tattooed boldly on each of her forearms. She opens her arms wide and asks, “What do you want to do with me today?” I’m learning to say yes more and more. You?

Unfortunately, more people today than ever are living in Thoreau’s “quiet desperation” and accepting “life” like helpless balloons blowing in the wind. I offer up instead William Ernest Henley’s approach to life from his poem Invictus:

“I am the master of my fate: I am the captain of my soul.”

Take the wheel, my friend. Take the wheel.


It Feels Really Good, It Costs Nothing, and It Sheds Bodyfat

Can you guess what it is?

It’s something you love to do. It’s absolutely free. You do it literally every day (I missed one day in my life; that was a special day).

It boosts your wellness and it’s a great way to lose excess bodyfat (or prevent the accumulation of excess bodyfat).

It’s not an exercise program. It’s not an eating program.

A study article published in the interdisciplinary medical journal Science Translational Medicine (1) has the answer: sleep.

In the study, subjects spent five weeks getting normal sleep and three weeks getting 5.6 hours of sleep per night. Measures of blood-insulin levels, blood-glucose levels, and resting metabolic rate were taken from the subjects. Lack of sleep was associated with lower blood-insulin levels, higher blood-glucose levels, and lower resting metabolic rates.

That glorious Sunday morning feeling when you linger there. That delicious feeling when your head hits the pillow and you cozy up under the covers after a full day. Oh, how good it feels to sleep.

Photo 126--Sleepy Feet

And just how good for you is it? Let’s ask the researchers:

“The robust changes we observed with exposure to chronic and concurrent circadian disruption and sleep restriction have potential relevance to the millions of people who experience these challenges on a daily basis and who are more likely to develop the metabolic syndrome and diabetes.”

“Findings of particular clinical relevance for exposure to chronic sleep restriction with circadian disruption include a 32% decrease in insulin secretion in response to a standardized meal, a very large effect that led to inadequate glucose regulation: glucose levels were higher for a longer time and rose to pre-diabetic (type-2) levels in some participants.”

“Finally, the 8% drop in RMR [resting metabolic rate] with sleep restriction and circadian disruption, assuming no changes in activity or food intake, would translate into ~12.5 pounds [sic] increase in weight over a single year (120 kcal/day X 365 days / 3500 kcal of fat mass), which has clear clinical relevance as chronic sleep restriction with circadian disruption is endemic in our society.”

Three weeks of lousy sleep led to a pre-diabetic metabolic state in the subjects and lowered their resting metabolic rate by an amount that would result in 12.5 pounds of bodyfat gain in a year if they continued their sleep-deprived ways.

It’s good and it’s true: Sleep makes you well and lean. Sweet, decadent pleasure can be very good for you.

Wellness isn’t a no pain, no gain game. In wellness, exercise and eating are the cool kids in our Puritan culture. When it comes to wellness, sleep is certainly not a cool kid; it’s one big outcast. Tell your friends you get eight or nine hours of sleep per night and they look at you like you’re a jerk. With exercise, you can push yourself to the point of exhaustion. With eating, you can deny yourself the sensuous enjoyment of food and the satisfaction of a fully belly. Pushing and denying are gods in Puritan culture. Pleasure is about as big a sin as you can commit. That’s why most people who get feedback from a physician that they’re on the road to type-2 diabetes or who’ve got that 12.5 pounds of excess bodyfat hanging around don’t turn to sleep as part of their solution. Science tells us they should. If art is more your thing, so does William Shakespeare:

“O sleep, O gentle sleep, Nature’s soft nurse, how have I frightened thee?” (Henry IV)

“Enjoy the honey-heavy dew of slumber.” (Julius Caesar)

(1) Metabolic Consequences in Humans of Prolonged Sleep Restriction Combined with Circadian Disruption. Science Translational Medicine, 2012, 4(129), 1-19.


The Price Is Right

“Come on down, Julie from San Francisco, you’re the next contestant on The Price Is Right!”

“Julie, our game for you today is a food game: Which Costs Less? (The crowd cheers excitedly.) I’m going to show you two baskets of food and you’re going to guess which one costs less. Pretty simple, right? (Julie takes a long pause.) Julie, you look really excited. Are you okay?”

“Jason, I can’t believe I’m here! I’ve wanted to be on The Price Is Right my whole life!”

“I can tell you’re thrilled to be here, Julie! Let’s get going with our game!” (The crowd cheers enthusiastically.)


“In basket 1, Julie, we have one pound of organic broccoli, one pound of wild-caught cod, and one pound of organic Gala apples purchased from a local fish market and a local farmers’ market.”

“In basket 2, Julie, we have a box of Raisin Bran cereal, a bag of Tostito’s tortilla chips, and a bottle of Mott’s apple juice all purchased from our sponsor Walmart. Everyone loves Walmart, right? Yes, give it up for Walmart! (The crowd goes wild.)”

“Jason, I really think I’ve got this. I’m a great discount shopper. I grew up reading the food flyers with my mom and cutting coupons. In our family, we really know how to save money and get the best buy on food. I really think I’m going to get that car!” (Julie jumps up and down unable to contain herself.)

“Okay, which cost less, Julie, basket 1 or basket 2?”

“It’s basket 2, Jason, I know it is!”

(The Price Is Right losing horn.) This article works better if you play the horn for effect.

“I’m so sorry, Julie. It’s basket 1. Let’s take a look at the costs:

Basket 1, if purchased once, would cost $18.97.

Basket 2, if purchased once, would cost $8.47. So far, you’ve made the right choice.

Basket 1, if purchased weekly for 50 years, would cost $49,322.00.

Basket 2, if purchased weekly for 50 years, would cost $22,022.00. Wow, that’s a lot less!

But in the final 25 years, a person eating the low-nutrient diet of basket 2 would incur an additional cost of $5,000 per year for the treatment of type-2 diabetes, and in the final 10 years, an additional cost of $48,000 per year for assisted-living care. So when we add in the medical costs associated with basket 2, we have a whopping grand total of $627,022.00.

A person eating the high-nutrient diet of basket 1 would incur an additional cost of $2,000 per year in medical expenses over the 50 years for a total additional cost of $100,000. That’s a grand total of only $149,322.00.”

It turns out cheap “food” (food-like packaged goods) isn’t so cheap after all, and those “expensive” vegetables, fish, and fruit are actually quite the value.

And that’s only considering the financial value. The true wealth that comes from eating well is found in how tasty real food is and how good it feels to be well.

Prominent medical journals confirm what we can all see clearly if we’re willing to look: How we eat affects our wellness (in both directions). (1-4)

According to The Lancet Psychiatry: “We advocate recognition of diet and nutrition as central determinants of both physical and mental health.” (1)

According to the Annals of Internal Medicine: “Better diet quality at midlife appears strongly linked to greater health and well-being among those surviving to older ages.” (2)

According to the Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences: “The results of the present study add to the growing body of literature that demonstrates that diet quality is associated with functional status in older adults.” (3)

Powerful words from powerful authorities and simple common sense of any person living in tune with nature, and their nature, both tell us: It pays to eat well.

Editor’s note for fun (the editor is the same person as the writer): When this article came to me in a dream, I really did say, “Give it up for Walmart!” At that point, I woke up in a cold sweat.

Editor’s note for financial and economic critics: It’s true that for many people much of their treatment for type-2 diabetes is covered by their medical insurance. It’s true that for many people assisted-living care is paid for by Medicare and/or long-term-care insurance. But the more medical care we collectively use, the higher everyone’s insurance premiums are. And most of us pay into the Medicare system via Medicare tax. Increased need for medical care inevitably means higher Medicare tax. When a person willfully avoids self-care that leads to more medical care, we all pay for it. It may not be as expensive for an individual as I portray in this article, but it’s more expensive for all of us. Public-health leaders are well aware of this:

“The costs of health services are increasing globally, and are likely to become unsustainable unless members of the public become more fully engaged and take a greater responsibility for their own health. Personal prevention measures, such as we describe, could have a large impact on the costs of healthcare services. Ultimately however, decisions about behaviours [sic] lie with the individuals and there is therefore an urgent need to establish a more effective partnership between health services and citizens.” (4)

  1. Nutritional Medicine as Mainstream in Psychiatry. The Lancet Psychiatry, 2015, 2(3), 271-274.
  2. The Relation of Midlife Diet to Healthy Aging: A Cohort Study. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2013, 159(9), 584-591.
  3. Higher Healthy Eating Index-2005 Scores Are Associated with Better Physical Performance. Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences & Medical Sciences, 2012, 67(1), 93-99.
  4. Healthy Lifestyles Reduce the Incidence of Chronic Diseases and Dementia: Evidence from the Caerphilly Cohort Study. PLOS One, 2013, 8(12), 1-7.



Do You Know How to Be Well?

I met a man recently at a party and we got to talking about wellness. He was telling me about his plans to “lose weight”. This was my favorite part: “I know what I have to do. I’ve lost 50 pounds six times.”

He meant it. And technically, he’s right. He does know how to lose weight. He’s lost a lot of weight and he’s done it several times. In a certain light, this man could be considered an expert on weight loss.

But you can see the hole in his logic, right?

Let’s say the powers that be in your city decide they want to build a new bridge across a river. They hire a pedigreed civil engineer and she designs a bridge. Millions of dollars are spent, tons of steel are erected, and there you have it—a fancy new bridge. People drive over it and it’s the prize of your city. Then it collapses six months later and hundreds of people perish in the river below. Is this engineer a bridge-building expert? Does she know how to build a bridge? Of course, not. Imagine they re-hired her six times.


That’s what party guy is doing. Does he know how to lose weight? Hell no! He knows how to build an inevitably collapsing bridge.

He told me, “I cut out fat and salt. I make all my food for the week on Sundays and I portion everything out. I eat the same thing every day. It works every time.”

It sure is sexy. It’s the works-every-time part I reject. It hasn’t worked once.

Which brings me to my question: Do you know how to be well or do you think you know how to be well?

Are you actually in tune with yourself and your needs? Is the way you’re taking care of yourself working for you? Will your approaches stand the test of time or will your bridge collapse one day too?

I challenge you with these questions the same way I challenge myself with them often. Once we close the doors on what isn’t working, we can be open to what will work. I’ve released so much of what I thought I knew about wellness in order to let in more and more wisdom over many years. Is there something for you to release today?


Kill the Diet Foods Before They Kill You

In my friend’s kitchen recently, an acquaintance proudly let me know she was having a no-calorie hot chocolate. She had that look on her face. You know the look: “I’m really doing this. I’m so smart. I have my willpower all mustered up. I’m going to get skinny now.”

I’ve heard this before from this woman. The first few times, after making sure she wanted advice, I told her how diet foods (and the avoidance of calories, protein, fat, and/or carbohydrate that is the intention of most diet foods) weren’t her solution to being leaner. She seemed to hear me, but she’s still at it with the diet foods.

The fact that I’m a wellness coach doesn’t faze her. The fact that I have the lean look she desires (the man version anyway) doesn’t faze her. The fact that I’m eating a hearty meal, with, um, calories, protein, fat, and carbohydrate in it right in front of her doesn’t faze her. Sometimes a person just isn’t ready. She’s not ready to hear it from me.


Maybe she’d be swayed by a 2015 study on diet-soda intake (1):

“In a striking dose-response relationship, increasing DSI [diet-soda intake] was associated with escalating abdominal obesity.”

To be clear, “escalating abdominal obesity” isn’t researcher speak for beach body.

I spend very little time thinking about the shape of my body these days. I live to be well, not to be a Calvin Klein model. That said, being lean and being well do tend to go together. But it’s being well that makes you lean, not being lean that makes you well. And those diet foods certainly don’t make you well (1):

“High incidences of overweight and obesity, hypertension, metabolic syndrome, diabetes mellitus, kidney dysfunction, heart attack, and hemorrhagic stroke have all recently been associated with frequent NNSI [non-nutritive-sweetener intake] and DSI [diet-soda intake].”

That sure ain’t good. Don’t have a (Diet) Coke and a smile, I guess.

I’m not casting stones; I’ve been there. As a fat teenager in a culture where fat equals outcast, and without any training in how to make peace with my reptilian and mammalian brains, I set out to be not fat as quickly as I could. This included a diet that revolved around my mom’s cardboard-like rice cakes, every kind of low-fat cracker I could get my hands on, and, yes, lots of Diet Pepsi—a diet nearly void of nourishment.

I learned the long, hard way (understatement alert) that I need food to live. I need whole natural, real food—the kind with calories, protein, fat, carbohydrate, minerals, vitamins, and other nutrients in it. I get energy from the food I eat. I’m made from the food I eat. Things work much, much better for me on a diet of tomatoes, cod, almonds, pumpkin seeds, raspberries, and the like, than on so-called diet foods.

It’s simple, it feels good when you do it, and it keeps you well (and lean) in the long-term:

Eat real food. Eat when you’re hungry. Stop when you’re full. Enjoy meals with your close ones whenever you can.

It’s only a radical concept because of the time and culture you grew up in. Those four poignant sentences describe how 99.9 percent of people have eaten for 99.9 percent of the time there have been people.

A really helpful distinction that will help you move into eating like this is to think of eating as an inclusion-based activity, not an exclusion-based activity. In other words, think of eating as something you to do nourish yourself, not as a game of restriction. This is a great concept to reflect on and will radically change how you approach eating.

You’re worth feeding yourself very well. How would you like to feed yourself today?

(1) Diet Soda Intake Is Associated with Long-Term Increases in Waist Circumference in a Biethnic Cohort of Older Adults: The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. Journal of the American Geriatric Society, 2015, 63(4), 708-715.