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    Archive for the ‘Speaking With…’ Category

    Speaking With…: Dr. David Wallinga

    Last week, the FDA withdrew two 34 year-old proposals to limit the use of two non-therapeutic antibiotics (penicillin and tetracycline) in cattle feed, opting instead to recommend voluntary withdrawal.  This is particularly outrageous in light of the dozens of countries that have instituted these bans successfully.

    Upon hearing this latest bit of news, I got in touch with Dr. David Wallinga, a renowned expert in the link between the ubiquity of antibiotics in animal feed and increased human resistance to these drugs. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Wallinga at the American Dietetic Association annual conference this past October, where he was part of a point-counterpoint panel on that very issue.

    I wanted to get his thoughts on the FDA decision, as well as on the public health threats posed by antibiotics in cattle feed. His responses below:

    Continue Reading »


    Speaking With…: Bruce Bradley

    A few weeks ago, I learned of a relatively new blog largely centered around food industry deception, but with an interesting twist — its author, Bruce Bradley, is a former Big Food marketer!

    Specifically, Mr. Bradley spent over fifteen years as a food marketer at companies like General Mills, Pillsbury, and Nabisco. He has since, in his words, “become more educated about the risks and environmental impact of eating processed foods”, and is now a CSA enthusiast.

    I recently asked Mr. Bradley some questions that I thought someone with his unique background and experience could really shed some light on:

    Continue Reading »


    Speaking With…: Mary Waldner of Mary’s Gone Crackers

    As much as I enjoy calling out Big Food’s deceptive tactics and worrisome practices, I also like to recognize companies that offer real food and a refreshing “what you see is what you get” approach. Among that small group of all-stars is Mary’s Gone Crackers (apart from crackers, they also offer cookies, pretzel-sticks, and “crumbs”).

    I have been a staunch fan since my first bite in 2008, and have been spreading the word about them since. Any time I have brought these to an office, meeting, or get-together, many people express curiosity and, after trying one, immediately ask, “Wow, where can I buy these?”.

    While the crispy crunch, unique flavor, and dip-withstanding texture are definite pluses, my favorite aspect is the whole-food, organic, non-GMO ingredients. Did I also mention the entire Mary’s Gone Crackers product line is wheat and gluten-free?

    With October being non-GMO month, I wanted to speak with creator Mary Waldner about her goals with the product line and get some insight into production and sourcing issues.

    Continue Reading »


    Speaking/Catching Up With…: Mrs Q (The Transcript)

    FINAL2Last Wednesday, I spoke on the phone with Mrs. Q of the Fed Up With School Lunch blog, almost to the day in which she hit the halfway point of her “year of school lunches” project.

    If you are unfamiliar with her, please read my e-mail interview with her from this past January.

    The transcript of our chat follows:

    Hi, Mrs. Q.  Welcome!  So, are you relieved to have a summer free of school lunches?

    Oh, gosh.  I think ‘relieved’ doesn’t even really encompass how I feel right now.  I’m so thrilled.  I’m so ready for the Summer.

    What was your lunch today?

    I thought you’d ask that!  We [my husband and I] had soup… and some sardines, and chickpeas.  It was very random.

    But it didn’t come wrapped in plastic, so that’s a nice change.

    Right, exactly. (Laughs)

    I was thinking about all the school food that you’ve eaten so far this year and two meals stick out to me most.  One is the 62 ingredient pizza.  Then, there’s the infamous peanut butter and jelly sandwich that had the Pop-Tart-ish graham crackers standing in place of the sandwich bread.  In your years as a teacher, were you familiar with those offerings or did you first see them when you started doing the project?

    Oh, I had just seen them when I started doing the project.  I had never gone down to the cafeteria when they had peanut butter and jelly on the menu.  I just assumed, like anybody else, that it was actual bread and peanut butter and jelly.  I didn’t think that it was this mallomar cracker thingy… the weirdest thing you’ve ever seen, or eaten.

    I know that was one of the meals that made you feel pretty sick.

    Yeah, actually, when I had it in January, it did make me sick.  I think.  I mean, I could have just felt sick that day by chance, but that was part of what made me feel ill.  Then it was served again in June, and that day, I knew it was coming, so I had packed a little salad.  I just took a nibble of the sandwich.  I couldn’t face another night of feeling sick.  I didn’t want to take that risk.

    Do you know if any of your students got sick from eating that sandwich?

    Not that I could tell.

    One thing I’m interested in — that you’ve touched upon in your blog — is the environment in which these lunches are eaten, as far as the students go.  Can you give me a visual of the cafeteria in terms of what you see when you walk in, what color the walls are?  Can you tell me a little bit about the smells, the sounds…?

    Oh, yeah.  When you walk in the cafeteria, it’s very drab.  It’s sort of a pinky peach color on the walls.  There are no murals or anything.  There are a scattering of posters, but nothing memorable.  It’s VERY loud.  Incredibly loud.  The kids are screaming, and they are very excited to be at lunch.  It’s very hard to have a conversation with another adult.  You can’t hear yourself.

    The kids don’t get any recess, so it’s really hard to see them there in the cafeteria, using their only escape time to try and wind down the best that they can.  I think they really need to be exercised.  It’s sad.

    Does it have that traditional cafeteria… “unidentified aroma”?

    Yes, yes!  Well, actually, what’s so interesting is that I can sometimes… now that I’ve eaten so many lunches, I can sometimes tell what’s being served when I’m just walking by, even 500 feet away.  I can be, like, “alright, it’s tater tots today.”


    Yeah, or I can smell the meatloaf.  There is that aroma that’s hard to place.  It varies.

    Over the past few months, you’ve been awarding titanium sporks on your blog to leaders in the fight for healthy school lunches.  Jamie Oliver got one in April, Lisa Suriano of Veggiecation was the May recipient, and it seems, based on the comments I’ve read on your blog, that for this month it could be Chef Ann Cooper, who I love.  I know the June spork is the last one, but if you could personally award a fourth one in July, who would you award it to?

    I’ve already thought that if I had an extra one, I would love to give it to Ed Bruske, The Slow Cook.  He’s done some amazing reporting out of Washinton DC about the school food environment there.  His daughter goes to school, and that was his motivation for his series on school food.  He also, sort of like me, walked into this in January.  He went into his daughter’s cafeteria, because he had heard they made changes.  [Turns out] they went from exactly the same foods that I was eating [at my school] to the food they call “fresh cooked”, which is the same food, except that it comes in big boxes and they heat it up instead of serving it in the containers I eat out of.

    [Ed] spent a week in the [school’s] kitchen, reported on it, and it was very eye-opening.  He’s a really excellent writer, I really like his perspective.  He’s angry about this.  He’s mad.  I really like seeing that kind of engagement with this issue.

    Speaking of anger and voices being heard, are you still fearful of people knowing your identity?

    Oh, yeah.  I’m not as fearful as I was in January or February when I was really, really scared.  I hadn’t gotten any attention at all [up until that point], and I was just doing this for fun.  I didn’t think this was something that anyone would ever notice.  So, when people started noticing, I started getting nervous.

    Now that I’ve done it for half a year, I feel a lot less worried.  I’m still certainly taking precautions, but I feel like at this point, I have the support of so many readers and I’d really be interested to see what kind of grounds [my school’s administrators] would have to let me go.

    On the other hand, I am thinking about how this project affects me and how I move forward with my own life.  I have a platform here that I never, ever expected to create.  I’m only going to have this brief window in which I get all this attention, it’s my 15 minutes of fame, and I’m thinking how can I use that to potentially help more kids and  see if it provides a career change.  In some ways, I might have more fallback now that I’ve gathered up more steam in the project.

    It’s funny you say that, because I have a hard time imagining that suddenly, in January of 2011, you go back to your pre-blog life.

    I know!  I keep thinking that too.  I don’t know where I’m headed.  Part of me thinks that when an employee does something like this [blog], it’s not exactly the most happy employee ever, you know what I’m saying?

    I have seen postings for jobs in other schools and other districts I thought I’d be better suited for, potentially, and that I would get fulfillment from, so I’m thinking, “should I change jobs?”, “how can I leverage this potentially?”.  The other thing is,  I have a young family.  I love working with children, so I wouldn’t want to do any kind of drastic change.

    It’s very likely that within the next six months there could be some really wonderful opportunities coming your way.  I was also wondering how this project has shaped or altered your career goals.  Maybe you still want to be teaching [in the future] but be more involved in the advocacy [side of things]?

    Yeah, I’ve come up with some interesting ideas that I’m exploring, but I keep wondering “how can I take this to another level?”.  If I wanted to be a nutritionist, I’ve got a great application essay here!

    And you’ve got some really good hookups and some really good references! Back to the identity thing, here’s one thing I don’t understand.  Prior to eating these lunches… which you eat in your classroom, correct?


    Prior to this, weren’t you eating lunch with the other teachers in the teacher lounge?


    So… don’t they wonder where you’ve been for the past six months during lunchtime?

    (Laughs).  I’m very busy.  We all are.  There’s certain teachers you know never eat in the lounge, and then there are teachers who always eat in the teacher’s lounge.  For the most part, I was pretty variable.  Now, I just make excuses…. that “I have a lot to do”, which is true.

    These lunches are made to be eaten very quickly, so I am able to really down them.  I can eat that lunch so fast now and still have enough time to do a couple little things with paper around my desk, or a little organizing before I have to go back.

    So you mastered the art of downing school lunch.

    I know, isn’t that sad?  I can really, really pound it.

    Is the plan still that at the end of the calendar year you’re going to have a post on your blog revealing your name?  Have you given any thought how you are going to end this project?

    I haven’t thought about it at all.  I keep thinking to myself, “maybe I should wait a month and THEN reveal myself”, because then it won’t be such a big deal.

    Well, I think you should just go on Oprah and reveal yourself that way.

    Well, that would give me some kind of immunity.  It really would.

    Yeah, if you have Oprah’s support, you’re pretty much golden.

    I don’t think that I could get in that much trouble if I had that kind of support behind me.

    Particularly if you’re one of her favorite things…. or people.  (Laughs).  I know that originally you had planned  to work in a cafeteria as a “lunch lady” this summer, but you’ve since changed that and are now going to be volunteering.  Can you tell me — to whatever extent you can — about your summer plans?

    It’s going to be pretty low-key, I’m going to be in a cafeteria setting where I’ll be working with kids and food.  Working together, from what I understand.

    I understand you can’t go into detail.


    Do you also still have that plan of uploading some photos on your blog of examples of food marketing geared towards children?

    Yeah, I’m doing it a little bit already, with some pictures I’ve taken.  I haven’t posted any of them yet, but, yeah, different pictures I’ve taken around the environment.  I took a photo of a McDonald’s ad that I’m going to write a whole post on.  I’ve been mulling it over.  I also took a photo of food advertising form Walmart that I saw on a billboard.  I’m very anti-Walmart, so that will be a really fun post to write (laughs).

    Yeah, some therapy!  The McDonald’s ad, with the recent Happy Meal controversy, is very timely.

    Yeah.  I really dislike McDonald’s a lot.  We’ve never taken our child there.  That’s an experience we haven’t had as parents, but we were in a very big cafeteria food court over the weekend, and there was a McDonald’s there.  I got a burrito from one stand and my husband got a chicken schwarma from another stand, so totally not your normal McDonald’s fare.

    Everyone around us was eating McDonald’s.  Our kid was downing the tomatoes  from my burrito, and some of the chicken, and the lettuce.  The kid next to him was eating fries and nuggets and playing with his Shrek watch [that came in his Happy Meal].  We were having a completely different meal.  My kid had a very sensory based meal, where he was diving in with his fingers and getting really messy with the burrito and… that’s how food is supposed to be experienced.

    Food should be fun — in the way that you’re saying, sensory-based… not because it’s blue and glows in the dark.

    Yeah, I saw our little guy looking at the kid with the watch, and I could see the gears turning there, but luckily I was able to distract him back to the table (laughs).  Anything that sparkles attracts kids and they are vulnerable to that, and it bothers me.

    Before we say goodbye, I want to play a word association game with you.

    Oh boy.

    You know the drill.  I say a word or phrase, you tell me the first thing that comes to mind, and it’s good times all around.




    Chicken nuggets.



    (Defeated) Oh, God!

    That says it all!  That says it all!  Students.


    Fruit icee.


    Tater tots.


    Mrs. Q.

    Cute! (laughs)

    I would say “activist”, “awesome”.  You know I’ve been a fan since day one, and I really want to thank you not only for this interview but also for your passion, for your commitment to the cause, and for doing it in such a way that has really captured millions of people.  What you’ve done, to me, is astounding and I have a feeling that the rest of 2010 is going to be very interesting and full of positive developments for you.

    Thank you so much.  I have to also thank you because you were one of the first people to notice what I was doing, and you started that snowball at the top of that hill.

    I remember, it was January and someone on Twitter posted a link to your blog.  I saw it, and I immediately e-mailed you and asked “can I interview you!?!” because I had this… intuition that this was going to become something really, really big… and I’m glad it did.

    It’s been fun sharing the ride the past 6 motnhs.  That’s been a great part of the project, interacting with people like yourself and readers through the comments and emails, it’s been really fun.

    It has.  Thank you again, Mrs. Q.  Bye!


    Six Months Later, Speaking With…: Mrs. Q

    nuggets1Here is my latest phone interview with “Mrs. Q” of the “Fed Up With School Lunch” blog.

    In this chat, Mrs. Q. gives me a “sight, sound, and smell” tour of her school’s cafeteria, discusses her Summer plans, shares insight into her career future, and even plays a fun game of word association!

    My first interview with Mrs. Q (back in January) provides insight into, and background info about, her blog project.



    Speaking With…: “Mrs. Q”

    0112001153-759571“Mrs. Q” appeared in the blogosphere at the beginning of 2010 and has quickly become the talk of nutrition and foodie cyberspace.

    In case the name does not ring a bell, she is the author of the Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project blog (a must-read!), where she chronicles her experiences as a school teacher who, starting this month, has vowed eat school lunch every Monday through Friday for one year.

    FYI: The picture that accompanies this post depicts a typical lunch for Mrs. Q these days.

    The project is absolutely fascinating, as it perfectly captures the problems of school lunch — poor nutrition, odd flavors and textures, environmental unfriendliness (plastic, plastic, and more plastic!), and the effects of cheap crop subsidies on individual health.

    Unlike every other critic of school lunch, though, Mrs. Q lines up every day to get a taste.  Consider it a more realistic “Super Size Me” (while many individuals consciously choose to eat McDonald’s thirty days in a row, these school children — many of whom are on cost-reduced or free-lunch programs, have little to no say when it comes to their lunch options).

    This past weekend I had the opportunity to interview Mrs. Q via e-mail.

    Read below to learn more about her project and her thoughts on school lunch.

    When did the state of school lunches first come up as an area of concern for you?  I know you have been a teacher for four years, but is this an issue that became important to you recently (after the birth of your child), or did you have a partial interest in this before you began your teaching career?

    I really never gave much thought to school lunches before I became a teacher. I moved around a lot as a kid and I had various different quality lunches, but I don’t remember much. When I started teaching I noticed how bad they were, but I didn’t think there was much I could do. It was only after becoming a parent that I started worrying about the kids. Interestingly my son is at a daycare that gets semi-institutional food, but their meals are higher quality with more variety. For example, their menu includes items like rice, noodles, tuna, ravioli, yogurt, soynut butter on graham crackers, eggs, etc.

    Has school lunch ever come up as a concern in meetings with administrators, other teachers, and/or parents?  If so, what was the context in which it was discussed?

    At my school I have never been to a meeting where this was discussed. It’s only been over lunch with other teachers where we have brought this up casually.

    How do you manage to maintain anonymity in your school?  I assume you wait in line for your lunch alongside students.  Is it common for teachers to purchase school lunch every day?  Also, where are you taking those photographs (which are styled very well, by the way!)?

    Not a single soul in the school knows about what I’m up to. I am friendly with the lunch room manager and I just told them that I’m going to be eating a lot of school lunches because I’m lazy and I don’t want to prepare food at home.  It is true that not having to pack my lunch in the morning does save me time, but of course my excuse is a half-truth.

    As a teacher I can cut in front of the students. I usually try my best to get lunch either before most students line up or after they have been served. I don’t like cutting in front of them when I know that this could be their only/best meal of the day.

    It is not common for teachers to buy lunch every day. Most teachers do not buy lunch. There is one teacher who is considered to buy lunch “frequently” and that is once a week. I have to say that last year I looked at her and thought that was different.

    I used to eat lunch with other teachers in the teachers’ lounge but I have been so very busy that I started eating by myself in my room. That way it is a “working” lunch. Now I’m eating lunch by myself, it’s very easy to take pictures of the food. The other bonus of the food is that it can be eaten fast and I really need that with my workload. The lunches I used to pack for myself were bigger and required heating up, which took minutes off a short lunch (20 minutes to eat & use the facilities).

    The pictures are taken with my cell phone camera, which is an old model! My mother also commented that she liked the photos, which I thought was pretty funny. My mother is an artist so she thinks she gave me an “artist’s eye” and she is taking the credit for that.

    You have now been eating school lunch for 10 days.  What can you tell me about any physical and/or emotional changes you have experienced?

    There have been no issues yet. Ten days is not very long. One day after lunch I felt nauseous, but thankfully it passed. But the big thing was that I realized I am lactose-intolerant because I never before consumed milk at lunchtime and I had some “aftereffects” towards the end of the day. I had reduced my milk consumption to almost nothing because I had to go totally non-dairy for my son while I was breastfeeding. Also during the winter I wanted to have a hot breakfast to combat the cold outside and so I switched from cereal to oatmeal.

    With the re-introduction of milk, my body is sort-of getting a lactose jolt. I’ve stopped drinking the milk for now. I may purchase some lactose-enzyme so that I can drink the milk at school and stay true to the goals of my project.

    What effect does knowing, from the moment you walk into your school, that you are eating school lunch do to your psyche?  For example, do you now view food more through a “sustenance” lens than a “pleasurable” one?  Does it make you “dread” lunch?

    It’s only been 10 days so I don’t think about it at all. I’m sure there will be “moments of dread” in the future. The first few days I started doing this I was so nervous buying lunch. My heart was pounding. But now I’ve gotten in a rhythm. I just breeze in and out and no one cares. At this point I keep wondering if there will be new meals that I haven’t tried still coming. Since I’ve only had one repeat meal, I’m not bored yet.

    I’m so busy at work that I don’t think about the project at all. It might be hard to believe but that’s how it is. Teaching is a “performance” job: you have to be “on” all the time. If I have a bad night with my son and don’t get much sleep, I can’t just tell myself, “oh, I’ll just have an easy day in my cubicle and surf the net.” I still have to go into a classroom, teach, and manage behavior. I can’t ever “phone it in.” How about leaving early? Teachers can never leave early. What principal would hire a sub for just the last hour of the day? It’s a very demanding job and I have a lot of things on my mind, mostly how to meet the students’ needs. I don’t think about the project at all until it’s lunchtime and I think, “Oh yeah, I’d better get my three bucks and head to the cafeteria.”

    Have you spoken to your students (now or previously) about the lunch offered by your school?  If so, do your students consider this to be “normal” food, both in terms of taste and appearance?  Your photos clearly illustrate why many children think vegetables are “gross” — the ones they are exposed to at school are simply steamed.  No care is taken to make them taste appealing!

    I don’t want to reveal too much about my students, but some have special needs. That means that it’s hard for them to express themselves and answer questions. I have asked kids at the end of the day, “What did you have for lunch today?” They don’t remember! As for the idea of “normal” food, the kids don’t know anything else so they probably couldn’t even conceptualize what “normal” means. What is “normal” to Americans anyway? The vegetables must be steamed like you suggest, but I thought there was something funny going on with the broccoli: it was almost sugary. So who knows what is put on some of the stuff.

    It seems to me, based on your posts, that students are not given any choice whatsoever when it comes to their lunch.  Is that correct?  Meaning — do students have a choice between unflavored and chocolate milk?  Or, say, a choice between a side of rice or a side of steamed vegetables?

    There is no choice. The little packages are stacked and the kids grab one stack, put it on their tray, and move to the end of the line where they hand in their lunch ticket. Sometimes I see a small “a la carte” cart with pretzels and cookies for the kids to buy. I don’t see it all the time and probably less than 20 students in the whole school would ever buy extra food. There isn’t much time to eat.

    How familiar are you with the state of school lunches in your school district (and surrounding ones)?

    I’m not familiar with the rest of the district. I think most of them are like my school from what I know. I know one school had a salad bar, but that was a few years ago and I don’t know what happened to it. That school made headlines at the time.

    What is the age range of the students eating these lunches?

    Age 4 to age 11.

    Is there anything I did not cover that you would like to say?

    The school also serves breakfast to any students that come early and who want it. It’s very caring of the school. Unfortunately it doesn’t appear that too many students take advantage of the free breakfast benefit (maybe 20% of the school?). As far as I can tell, breakfast is not available to the teachers. If I can get more information about breakfast, I’ll post it on my blog.

    Many thanks to “Mrs. Q” for her participation.  Be sure to check out her fascinating blog or follow her on Twitter.


    Speaking With…: Brian Wansink

    This past Friday, Cornell University John Dyson Professor of Consumer Behavior and director of the Cornell Food and Brand Laboratory Dr. Brian Wansink stopped by New York University after being tapped as the second featured speaker of a new lecture series on nutrition and chronic disease.

    Taking off from his bestseller Mindless Eating, the talk was appropriately titled, “How To Turn Mindless Eating Into Healthy Eating.”

    With those prevously mentioned credentials, you might picture a stiff, “all business” type who solves complex equations in his head while half-listening to you.

    Dr. Wansink, however, is reminiscent of the cool high school math teacher who wanted you to learn — and have fun while doing so. His research explanations are peppered with personal anecdotes, comedy, and facial expressions that sometimes rival those of Jim Carrey.

    A few hours before his afternoon presentation, I sat down with Dr. Wansink for a one-on-one interview.

    If you are unfamiliar with Dr. Wansink’s work, please click here to familiarize yourself with his research before reading the interview.

    I get such a kick out of all your publicity shots for Mindless Eating [NOTE: see accompanying picture]. They’re great! Have they all been photographers’ ideas?

    Ha! Thanks. Yeah, I’ve had some really creative photographers who set up these elaborate shoots. Some of those popcorn shots literally took twelve hours, from setup to cleanup. There was a LOT of popcorn all over the floor at the end that had to be cleaned up (laughs).

    So, I recently read that all of this research started as a result of you wanting people in the United States to eat more vegetables.

    That’s right.

    How did you go from that to your current line of research?

    Yeah, before I started my dissertation [in the late 80s], I wanted to know: “why do you finish your vegetables sometimes and other times you leave them on your plate?”. “Why are you hungry for them one night and not the next?” That then evolved into the idea of environmental factors that affect our overall eating patterns. It’s a lot more complex than people think because so many of our eating behaviors are automatic. This is all about getting below that surface. One of my first research studies had to do with family serving behavior. We had people come in, eat, and then answer questions about what they ate.

    Then, we showed them video footage of their meal. It is amazing how many people flat out deny, or are not aware of, their eating behavior. You’ll say to someone, “you had three servings of peas.” They’ll tell you, “No, I only had one!” You feel like saying, “Well, unless you have an evil twin…”

    It’s not until you show them the videotape that they change their mind. I once had a woman cry when she saw herself eating on camera! My research considers three angles. Not only what people are eating and how much of it, but also with what frequency.

    How did all that research turn into Mindless Eating?

    In 2004, I was in France and thought to myself, “I’d like to write a book, but I don’t know if I want it to be academic or pop.”

    That year, Bonnie Liebman of the Center for Science in the Public Interest interviewed me for their Nutrition Action newsletter, and suddenly a lot of requests for book deal started coming in. Most of them were e-mails and, I don’t know, nothing really stood out. Then I got a letter — an actual letter! — from Bantam Dell Books. One of the things I liked about them is that, as they told me, they are in the business of creating “real books that people read.”

    Interesting you say that, because I think that’s definitely one of the factors behind the popularity of Mindless Eating. It is relatable for and interesting to the average consumer.

    So at this point, it’s been a few years since the book came out. I was wondering about recent developments. For example, have you conducted any research on the effects of calorie postings in fast food restaurants?

    Oh yeah, I was involved in a VERY well-done study with Carnegie Mellon in regards to calorie labeling. We looked at McDonald’s, Subway, and Starbucks in terms of what consumers were buying before and after calories went up. And, you know what? The results were indeterminate. They were all over the board. Some people consumed fewer calories, others didn’t. I would actually be suspicious of anyone who told you they have seen a dramatic effect as a result of calorie labeling.

    That strikes me as really odd. What are your theories regarding the results of that study?

    There’s a few things to consider. First of all, when it comes to weight loss, a lot of people think: Yeah, I wouldn’t mind losing ten pounds, but I don’t want to change a thing.” Then there’s reactance, which is a psychological term. It’s basically resistance. Reactance is at play when you’re in your car and the person behind you honks so you pull away more slowly than you would otherwise.

    (Laughs) Or when you know someone at a restaurant is waiting for your table, so you sit there and take a little longer.

    Yeah. So I think, in a way, some people are seeing these calories and thinking, “Oh yeah? Well, you’re not going to tell ME what to eat!” Something similar happened in a study I did with Cornell. So, Cornell has a huge dining hall that services about 1100 people at one time. I wanted to see what effect going tray-less would have. I thought it would have two positive effects — it would result in reduced waste and reduced calories.

    The idea being that people couldn’t pile everything on at once but instead had to get up from their table each time they wanted more food?

    Yeah, exactly. Well, the results came in, and that night there was roughly 30 percent MORE plate waste! I think it comes back to that idea of reactance, where people saw this and thought, “Fine, I won’t use a tray, but I’m not going to eat less.” “font-style:italic;”>But that’s not to say that I think calorie labeling isn’t useful. Let me tell you something. The other day I went to Sbarro and saw that the slice of pizza I wanted was 787 calories. Aaaaaaaah!! So I think these calorie postings are going to serve as incentives for these food companies to say, “Alright, wait a minute, I want to turn that 787 into 690.” I think it’s going to nudge companies to drop the numbers, and that’s what will, in turn, affect consumers.

    Speaking of consumers, you recently finished your one-year post with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion working on the Dietary Gudelines. How did that go?

    Oh, it was great! I thought I was on a mission from God! My last day was January 20, when the new president took office. I was literally sending e-mails at 11:59 PM on January 19. I was still e-mailing at 12:05 AM on January 20, and I remember thinking “Wow, they didn’t shut off my inbox!” Then I got up to grab something to eat, and about ten minutes later I came back and I no longer had access.

    Any sneak peeks as to possible changes we may expect in the next round of Dietary Guidelines?

    I was involved with the selection of the 13 Dietary Guidelines committee members, and 11 of them have a behavioral focus. They operate where the rubber meets the road. That’s important, because they take pages upon pages of data and transform it into information for the masses that can be summarized in just a few sentences.

    So to wrap up, I’m interested in hearing about research you are in the process of conducting now.

    Oh yeah, sure. Well, we’re looking at what happens to people’s eating behaviors when they sit next to someone who has a much higher BMI than they do. We are also doing a study where we have someone wearing a fat suit and going through one side of a buffet very slowly, serving themselves a lot of food. Everyone on the other side of the salad bar takes a much lower amount of food compared to when that person is going through the salad bar without the fat suit on. It’s the whole concept of mimicking the attractive person. It’s terrible, because weight is the last acceptable prejudice in our society and it can really be crippling to a person’s self-esteem.

    Lately, the concept of “nature vs. nurture” has become central to the issue of childhood obesity. Do you have any thoughts on that from a behavioral standpoint?

    Well, we conducted a study with 4 year olds. We gave all the kids a questionnaire to take home. The point of the questionnaire was to determine to what extent parents forced their kids to eat everything that was on their plate. Of course, we disguised those questions among lots of filler like “what is your favorite TV show?”

    “What color are your curtains?”, etc.

    (Laughs) Exactly. So the parents, on a scale of one to nine, had to rate just how heavily they enforced “the clean plate club” at home. So, you know, nine was “my kids HAVE to finish everything on their plate or there is some kind of consequence” and one was “Ah, if they eat, they eat. If they don’t, they don’t.” We discovered that the children whose parents insisted they finish everything on their plate served themselves approximately 40 percent more cereal in our study.

    Wow! And based on what you talk about in Mindless Eating… the idea that, once food is in front of us, it is very easy to eat it all, that’s a significant finding.

    Yeah, the thinking is that children who are forced to clean their plate feel like the have no control when it comes to food, so they find ways to reassert their control and independence.

    Well, it looks like we’ve actually gone over time, but this has been fascinating. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you. Thank you!

    Oh, absolutely. Thank you and best of luck with everything.

    Many thanks to Dr. Wansink for his time!


    Speaking With…: Ian Smith

    Most of you know him simply as “Doctor Ian,” nutrition expert on Vh1’s Celebrity Fit Club, creator of the 50 Million Pound Challenge, host of the nationally syndicated radio show HealthWatch on American Urban Radio Networks, and author of #1 New York Times Bestsellers like The Fat Smash Diet.

    Yesterday, Dr. Smith — a graduate of the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine — launched his latest work, The 4 Day Diet, which is composed of a variety of 4-day modules.

    My e-mail interview with him, transcribed below, covers the new book (I received an advance copy last month in preparation for our correspondence) as well as other current issues of interest in the fields of nutrition and public health.

    The concept of motivation plays a significant role in this book. What motivated you to pen The 4 Day Diet?

    So many people who I’ve worked with over the years have always talked about a lack of motivation or the inability to stay motivated. They wanted to know how to figure out a solution to this deficit.

    I looked at all of the best diet books and none of them really gave the topic of motivation any real coverage. I know as a fact that the mental part of dieting is the most critical, because if your mind isn’t in the right place, then regardless of how good the plan might be, you’re not going to succeed.

    The 4 Day Diet is my rendition of a COMPLETE program. There’s the mental plan, diet plan, and exercise plan. The people who I worked with while creating this program not only lost a lot of weight, they lost it consistently and they constantly told me how “doable” the program was compared to others they had followed.

    I also wrote the 4 Day Diet so that if parents want to put the entire family on a program, this could be that program. Most diet plans are not kid-friendly, but the 4 Day Diet is one that everyone can enjoy and see results.

    The psychological and emotional factors behind weight loss are thoroughly explored in The 4 Day Diet. Do you recommend that, if financially possible, people simultaneously seek psychological counseling before/while trying to achieve significant weight loss?

    In the best of worlds, people who need to lose a serious amount of weight or who have some psychological component to their cause(s) for being overweight would seek some type of psychological consultation. It’s not because they’re crazy or not smart. It’s because sometimes we have anxiety or stress-related problems and don’t even know it, and a professional might help tease these problems out.

    I know that everyone can’t afford to go to a psychiatrist/psychologist or doesn’t want to go, so that’s why I’ve included this material in the 4 Day Diet.

    A lot of people will learn more about the cause of their problems and the strategies they can employ to solve them as they go on and lose the weight while regaining their health.

    On a similar note, do you think periods of high stress are not a good time to begin implementing dietary changes?

    One of the worst times to start a diet program is during a period of high stress. I tell people all the time, if you have some type of major life disruption such as relationship problems, job problems, financial crisis, loss of a loved one, medical crisis–these are not the times to undertake a diet program.

    Unfortunately, too many people start a program simply because they believe it’s the right time on the calendar to do so and they don’t make sure it’s the right time in their life. Success is more attainable if one begins this journey at the most appropriate time.

    That being said, one must also guard against coming up with every excuse in the book as to why they shouldn’t lose weight. Major stress-inducing situations are the only things that should stand in the way, not the small stuff.

    Are you at all concerned the “Be Thinner by Friday!” label on the cover of the book can set up unrealistic expectations in readers or make this look like a gimmick?

    There is that risk and to be honest I wrestled with the idea of putting it on the cover. I had those exact concerns, but the publishing team felt as though given my history of creating medically sound programs and being honest with people, that they would not interpret it as a gimmick.

    The truth of the matter is that with the 4 day detox that’s at the beginning of the program, people will lose weight right away. Will they lose all of their weight? NO WAY! That’s not what I’m saying. They will lose weight and they will think differently.

    One of the chapters talks about “thinking thin.” That is as important as the physical part of looking thin. So, people will be thinner by Friday not just physically but mentally, and they will be on the road to significant changes if they stick to the plan.

    Is there a particular reason why the modules [in the diet plan] only allow one teaspoon of milk (even skim or low fat) in coffee?

    Great question. The honest answer is that people tend to go overboard. If the limit is 1 teaspoon, then most people are going to have 2. If I said 2 teaspoons were allowed, then they would rationalize having 3. Sometimes you can’t win.

    The major point with this is that you must try to cut calories wherever possible, even a small amount. If you get into the behavior of cutting calories with drinking coffee, then you’re also likely to do the same when there are bigger calories at stake such as eating an entree or dessert.

    It’s all about learning how to make lifestyle changes that will lead to permanent good health.

    What is your approach to people who “excuse themselves” from ever attempting to lose weight by saying “it’s just how they are built” because they come from “large families”?

    This is one of the most frustrating excuses I hear when people talk about reasons they don’t try or can’t lose weight. The truth of the matter is that unless one has a genetic medical condition that has been inherited from their family, there really is no such thing as “coming from a large family, therefore it’s inevitable that they are large.”

    Can you come from a tall family? Yes. But that’s genetic. Weight is rarely genetic. Families tend to be large because the choices they make from a dietary and exercise perspective make them large. There are no genetic plans that say everyone in a family is going to be 50 pounds overweight.

    But if there’s a medical condition that’s inherited, then that’s a different story. The truth is that you have a better chance of winning the lottery than truly being large “because your family is large.”

    Only 40 percent of medical schools in the United States offer a nutrition course. Of that 40 percent, very few actually require it as part of their curriculum. What are your thoughts on the apparent dismissal of nutrition that appears to be prevalent in the medical field (i.e.: “to lower blood pressure, take this pill, rather than be mindful of sodium and potassium intake.”)

    I think the lack of nutritional education is medical schools is a tremendous oversight and we are now seeing the manifestation of it with the obesity crisis we’re now facing. More doctors and nurses need to know a lot more about nutrition and supplements and non-medicinal ways to control weight.

    Obesity is a medical epidemic just like the plague was an epidemic. The front line fighters against this epidemic should be the doctors and nurses and other healthcare professionals. But there’s not enough nutritional and related training, thus they are not effective at fighting on the front lines.

    Are doctors entirely to blame for the obesity crisis? Absolutely not. Do doctors share some of the blame? Absolutely. I hope in the coming years that medical schools will see the need to take nutrition as serious as they take pharmacology and physiology and help train a new generation of obesity fighters.

    Mandatory calorie labeling has proven to be a successful policy in New York City. What are some other public health nutrition policies you would like to see implemented in the coming years to help people achieve their health goals?

    I think NYC has gotten off to a good start and I hope it proves successful and others will follow this lead. There are lots of health nutrition policies that should be implemented over the coming years to help cut into our obesity problem.

    I think that schools across the country are getting an F grade when it comes to providing healthy food for our children. This is an embarrassment for the US, a country so rich and so full of resources and intellectual capital. Our children need to be served healthier food and mandated to participate in regular physical activity. At a time when we need children to be more active, we’re dramatically cutting funding to programs and classes that would help our children get moving and lose some of this weight that will only harm them in their adult years.

    I also believe that the government needs to be more instrumental in helping lower-income areas attract healthier grocery stores. Too many neighborhoods have nowhere to shop but stores that sell unhealthy, calorie-rich, sweet, processed foods and not enough natural, fresh food.

    Yes, the communities must first want and then work to get these stores in their communities, but the government at some level should step in and play some role in incentivizing businesses to set up shop in these very needy communities. Remember, the healthier our fellow citizens, the healthier we all are!

    Many thanks to Dr. Smith for taking time to participate in Small Bites’ “Speaking With” section!


    Speaking With…: Milton Stokes

    Milton Stokes, MPH, RD, CDN is the owner of One Source Nutrition, offering a variety of private counseling and media consulting services.

    He is also an American Dietetic Association National Media Spokesperson who has been featured in a plethora of publications, including Self, Cooking Light, Men’s Health, Fitness, and the New York Daily News.

    I first met Mr. Stokes in January of 2007 when he served as an adjunct professor for New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health.

    He is an intelligent, sharp, and charismatic entrepreneur who is a wonderful asset to the field of nutrition and dietetics and communicates his nutrition knowledge in a most effective manner.

    On with the interview:

    What shifts, if any, have you noticed with your clients over the past decade? Is nutrition education really more widespread?

    Most people come to my office well-educated on nutrition and health.

    They develop admirable knowledge from websites, like anything associated with NIH.gov, and certain consumer publications, like Eating Well and Cooking Light. Clients know all about MyPyramid and reading food labels. So it’s not a knowledge gap.

    Instead, the problem is that gray area of disconnect, that missing spark to motivate clients to implement their knowledge.

    A lot of what we do in the practice is boost a client’s self-efficacy. We simply point out “You say you want to achieve health, but you continue with this behavior.”

    From there we proceed by encouraging them to start with a specific change today or this week. Showing clients we believe they can do it helps enhance their sense of self belief, which is what self efficacy is all about.

    What do you perceive as two of the most important behavioral modification changes people who are looking to lose weight can do?

    Step one is getting proof of what a client’s eating and drinking. Proof in the form of a simple food journal. It’s amazing what a difference seeing food consumption on paper really makes. Subtle, but significant, patterns start to emerge.

    Usually those patterns are enough to guide future work with the client. We work with eating disorders mostly, and as I said earlier, our patients are extremely educated in nutrition. But they do things, like sabotage themselves with unhealthy environments at home.

    Premium ice cream and other binge foods don’t crawl into the kitchen without help. With exercise, owning a treadmill is a good start, but you can’t use it as a wardrobe station in the basement. Take those clothes off of it–or whatever items reside there–and have it ready.

    This leads me to the next tip: plan. If you don’t plan to exercise, you probably won’t. Your sneakers and workout clothes won’t magically appear if you don’t take them out. Furthermore, take them with you in the morning. After work it’s a little easier to get to the gym when you don’t have to come home to change.

    Once home, it’s like pulling teeth to go back out. Home has dishes to be done, laundry to fold, mail to open, and so forth. Those are common distractions that become excuses. So I say bypass those and do the exercise first.

    Planning is applicable to food as well.

    Do most of your clients share a common obstacle/hurdle in reaching their health/nutrition/weight goals?

    We see mostly females in our practice. And the adult women tend to prioritize everything but their health.

    For one of many examples: They shop for food, they cook the food, and they clean up after it’s all over. I say, “Hold up, why can’t you farm out some of this work?” Give the list to your spouse; assign your 10-year-old the task of tearing lettuce for the salads and setting the table; each person clears his own dishes and loads the washer.

    That the woman has to do all this is really old fashioned. And it’s a common barrier to putting health first. If you aren’t healthy, how can you take care of your family?

    Finding ways to earn back 5 minutes here, 5 minutes there will add up. Soon you’re at 20 minutes, which is enough for a brisk walk and some alone time to clear your head.

    Are there two or three popular nutrition myths that most of your clients have interpreted as “truth”?

    Eating breakfast makes me gain weight.

    Stop eating after 6 pm or all the food turns to fat. But digested food isn’t like Cinderella’s carriage: at the stroke of midnight (or whatever time) it doesn’t turn into a pumpkin….or into fat.

    Holy grail of nutrition and feeding is some secret or mystical concoction. What’s the minute, teeny tiniest thing I’m missing to make me whole?

    Exogenous digestive enzymes….we would’ve died out ages ago.

    As a nutrition educator, are there certain inaccurate messages in the mainstream media regarding nutrition that especially frustrate you?

    In general, a lot of marketing jumps the gun on real benefits of specific nutrients or foods. This promotes adult food jags of sorts.

    One day dried plums or blueberries or tomatoes are the rage. The next, it’s some hideously bitter juice designed to extend life by 7 years.

    Then just a pill crammed with all the nutrition of 10 fruits and vegetables. There is no secret or miracle to losing weight or preventing disease. Eating real food does the trick–but that message isn’t sexy or provocative or profitable.

    Having said that, let me also pause to recognize the work of researchers.

    Nutrition is an evolving science, so what we know today may change tomorrow as research is completed. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with continuing to pursue new findings.

    I do wonder, though, what would become of human health if we diverted some of those research dollars to subsidize fruits, vegetables and whole grains? We know that eating this way works. Do we need more research, or can we go ahead and pay farmers with research dollars to deliver their products to all neighborhoods?

    People could go to market several times a week, or whenever, and stock up. Farmers could be paid to go door-to-door. Consumers wouldn’t pay a thing.

    What particular direction would you like the nutrition field to embark in over the next 10 – 15 years?

    Stop putting everything under a therapeutic microscope.

    Stop hanging on the latest research finding that says a certain micronutrient might do this or might do that. Nobody eats solo nutritients. Clients tire themselves by getting carried away over headlines without understanding the full scope of the study.

    Studies isolate single nutrients without considering synergy or total nutrient packages in whole food. This relates to what we talked about earlier: the message to eat more fruits and vegetables isn’t glamorous or trendy.

    I am concerned with incessant food scares over pathogens and improper food handling.

    I’d like to see nutrition researchers partnering with sleep experts. Who isn’t sleep deprived? Without enough sleep we know it’s quite difficult to lose weight, and you’re more likely to reward yourself with high-carbohydrate foods as way to feel better.

    Vitamin D [is another subject that we need to look into further].

    I might get in trouble for this, but we may have missed out on the opportunity to consider low-carb diets. First of all, I believe no single diet fits every person. I also believe low-fat isn’t necessarily top dog.

    Researchers, like Jeff Volek, have shown low-carb diets promote fat loss, preserve lean muscle mass, and improve lipid profiles. Am I saying we all need to eat low-carb? No. But we could let the scientific process show us what low-carb eating can do.

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
    A huge thank you to Milton for participating in this interview.

    If you enjoyed this interview, be sure to visit his new blog for more information and tips.


    Speaking With…: Mike Levinson

    This posting is dedicated to all my male readers.

    I’m not playing favorites, but certainly paying homage to the miniscule amount of male Registered Dietitians in the United States.

    Just how miniscule? Only 2.5 percent of the approximately 60,000 RD’s in this country are men!

    Remember, whereas anyone can call themselves a nutritionist, Registered Dietitians are accredited by the American Dietetic Association.

    Aspiring RD’s like myself must complete a series of required academic courses as well as a 900-hour clinical internship, and then show they can walk the walk by passing a national exam.

    If that isn’t enough, they also must complete 75 hours of professional education every 5 years in order to retain the credential.

    So, imagine my excitement when I first heard of RD Mike Levinson’s new book, Buff Dad, three weeks ago.

    Sure, there are plenty of male physicians, anthropologists, physicists, cardiologists, and quacks (oh, I don’t know, some guy named Kevin) dipping their toes into the nutrition waters, but it is rare to see a book penned by a male Registered Dietitian.

    Buff Dad is a “4-week fitness game plan” tailored for men (fathers or not) looking to tone up and slim down.

    Part of it comes from experience.

    Despite being an amateur bodybuilder and avid athlete, Levinson — who holds a bachelors degree of science in nutrition and exercise science from the Univ of Texas and completed his Dietetic Internship at California State University of Long Beach — gained 50 pounds in two years after his wife had their first child.

    The plan outlined in Buff Dad is what Levinson used to, as he puts it, go from a “puffy dad” to a “buff daddy”!

    What sets this apart from many other “diet” books is that Levinson instills some valuable lessons on healthy lifelong habits, including portion control, not swearing off any foods entirely, implementing exercise, and enjoying a diet that includes all food groups.

    Additionally, Levinson’s recommendations can be followed for life. No special supplements, exotic ingredients, or bizarre non-sensical rules.

    Unlike many other nutrition and fitness books aimed at men, the ultimate goal here is not to bulk up and reach Vin Diesel-like proportions. The focus is on healthy eating, toning up, and looking YOUR personal best, not that of advertisers’.

    Buff Dad‘s central “theme” surrounds the male sex hormone, testosterone.

    “Testosterone is the key to gaining that lean muscle and burning stubborn body fat,” says Levinson.

    In the book, he urges readers to include certain testosterone-boosting “powerfoods” on a daily basis, including tried and true classics like beans, poultry, and eggs, as well as some surprising ones — broccoli, brussels sprouts, and garlic.

    “Testosterone is shown to help men improve muscles mass and decrease body fat. The more muscle mass you can add to your body, the higher your metabolism which means you burn more calories and fat throughout the day,” he explains.

    Levinson believes that a steady intake of these foods, in combination with a consistent workout plan (also detailed in the book), helps tone up and boost metabolism.

    “Food is the most powerful fuel and drug to help athletes and people who want to get in shape and be healthy,” Levinson says.

    Small Bites landed an interview with this buff dad (and author). Our exchange follows.

    How does this plan fit into a vegetarian lifestyle? I specifically ask since lean beef and poultry are two of the top ten testosterone “powerfoods”.

    There are many vegetable-based testosterone foods which a vegetarian can include.

    [For example], lacto-ovo vegetarians [those who consume dairy and egg products] can eat eggs and egg whites.

    The most important factor [, though,] is to follow the diet plan and make sure to eat small meals throughout the day and watch portion sizes.

    Are there any foods that decrease testosterone levels? This kind of ties in to the first question, because I’m thinking along the lines of soy and phytoestrogens. Would a diet high in soy foods (ie: having soymilk, tofu, soy crisps, and soy burgers as daily staples) be detrimental?

    A diet high in soy based products could actually increase the production of estrogen in the body. High estrogen levels could potentially increase a man’s chances of getting gynocamastia (breast tissue “man-boobs”) and also increase risk of breast cancer.

    [But] I think including some tofu, soy beans and other soy based products is fine, and encouraged, especially if someone is a vegetarian. They need that protein to build muscle mass and further to increase metabolism [in order to] burn more fat.

    The plan recommends 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises three times a week, and 30 minute of cardio another 3 days of the week. If someone were pressed for time, could they do 30 minutes of cardio the same day/session as their 30 minutes of weight-bearing exercises, or is that going to have counter effects?

    Yes they can- exercise is cumulative, which means [that] as long as you do three times a week of weight training to build lean tissue and three to four days a week of cardio to burn body fat and increase stamina and cardio health, that is fine.

    I recommend doing some form of exercise at least five days a week so doing cardio and then weight training on the same day is fine but I believe another day or two of walking or biking or some form of cardio is a must.

    The book mentions low-fat diets as detrimental for men since they lower testosterone levels. However, low-fat peanut butter and fat-free yogurt are listed as suggested foods. Are these recommendations based on lower-fat varieties contributing less total calories?

    Yes- I believe in a well balanced diet and try to avoid higher fat (saturated) yogurts- these are not that good for you because of the higher saturated milk fat.

    As for peanut butter- I believe it is a wonderful food but high in calories because of the fat content so trying to get just a little less fat translates to lower calories.

    I do not believe in low fat and high carb diets and in this day- you could potentially eat a virtually fat free diet (the 1980s and 1990s) and not see results.

    From a training perspective, what are some of the most common mistakes you see men make at the gym?

    Some common mistakes men make at the gym or [when] working out at home is doing the same body part (i.e. abs or biceps or chest) everyday and not working other muscle groups.

    Also working the same muscle everyday or every other day does not allow that particular muscle to rest and recuperate.

    A total body workout with minimum amount of time is ideal and the standard now.

    What would you say to a man who comes to you, is about 50 pounds overweight, wants to get his health and fitness back, but has no idea where to start?

    Buy Buff Dad and get started on the program. It will be an easy way to get in shape without buying expensive machines or exotic foods.

    Thank you once again to Mike Levinson for his time.

    If you are interested in learning more, visit him at the Buff Dad website.


    Speaking With…: Mary Dye

    With millions of young men and women starting college over the next few days, I decided to pick my friend Mary Dye’s brain for advice, suggestions, and a “Nutrition 101” crash course for the Class of 2011!

    Ms. Dye studied anthropology and art history at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, but, upon realizing her passion for food and health, enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Public Health Nutrition Master’s program. There, she also completed coursework to become a Registered Dietitian.

    While completing her academic degree, Miss Dye was UNC Chapel Hill’s campus nutritionist.

    She then moved to New York City and was a member of Fern Gale Estrow’s Food and Nutrition Team, focusing on nutrition policy and advocacy.

    Miss Dye is currently a nutritionist at New York University’s Health Center, where she counsels a multitude of students on a variety of goals and concerns, including body image and eating disorders.

    Below, some very helpful information for anyone navigating through all-you-can eat cafeterias, regardless of your age.

    Small Bites: Many students starting college this fall are living in kitchen-less dorms. What are some good snacks you recommend they keep in their room to prevent from ordering in pizza every night at 2 AM?

    Mary Dye: The key to a great snack is to keep it around 300 cal or less and make sure it contains fiber, protein and some healthy fat. These components help you to feel satisfied, which can prevent further snacking throughout the night.

    In a kitchen-less dorm, healthy eating may be a challenge, but it’s easy to store items such fresh produce and canned fruits in light syrup (to avoid added sugars drain off the excess liquid and run fruit under water), nuts and nut butters and a variety of grains.

    I’m probably not supposed to advocate this, but I always advise students to grab at least one piece of fruit every time they leave the dining hall. These fruits can be incorporated into snacks throughout the day. Here are some healthy snack ideas:

    If you have a sweet tooth try:

    • Graham crackers with soy milk (if there is no refrigerator available, stock up on individual cartons that are shelf-stable)
    • No-sugar added applesauce mixed with peanut butter spread on whole grain crackers, such as Kashi’s TLC
    • Sweet snack bars such as Pure bar or Lara bar or granola bars such as Kashi
    • Bananas with almond butter and raisins
    • Dried fruit, sunflower seeds and nuts

    For a crunchy snack, turn to:

    • High fiber cereal (such as Cheerios, Kashi Heart to Heart or Barbara’s Bakery Organic Shredded Oats) mixed with almonds and unsweetened banana chips – you could even throw in a few chocolate chips
    • Sliced vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers or peppers dipped in salsa or hummus
    • Air popped pop-corn with chili powder or cinnamon
    • Apples or pears with sliced cheese (Cabot brand makes great 50% and 75% light cheddar varieties in small “snack packs”)
    • Melba toast or Wasa crackers with cashew butter

    For a savory snack, how about:

    • Whole wheat tortilla shell filled with canned beans and salsa
    • Mini bagel topped with canned tuna and sliced tomato or green pepper

    SB: All-you-can eat cafeterias can be found on every college camps. What eating strategies can students develop to resist from grabbing hamburgers, French fries, ice cream, and brownies every day?

    MD: First of all, eat throughout the day to avoid being overly hungry when you arrive at the dining hall. This means eating something roughly every 4 hrs beginning with breakfast. Between meals, snack on a small handful of nuts, yogurt or fresh fruit (taken from the dining hall, of course).

    Once you arrive at the dining hall, take a look at the menu before you go through the cafeteria line so you’re prepared to order a healthy meal. Many schools now post menus on their website and include nutrition information to help students make healthier choices.

    Do a quick walk-through of all the foods available and then proceed to grab your tray. Notice how many different sizes of plates, bowls and utensils are offered. Always opt for the smaller size. This will limit your portions while making you feel like you’re eating a full plate of food.

    Now, I do actually have a strategy for all you can eat dining. It goes like this: try to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli, tomato, asparagus, peppers, onions) and fruits. Fill one-quarter of the plate with lean protein (meat, beans, legumes, nuts, dairy) and the remaining one-quarter with grains or starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, corn).

    By doing this your meal will consist mostly of fruits & vegetables, which are low in fat and calories while high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Remember to be creative!

    Sometimes creating a healthy meal can be somewhat of a scavenger hunt, so be prepared to combine foods from different stations into a balanced meal. For example, if your school offers a grill station, have them prepare a grilled chicken breast or veggie burger, then carry that over to top your salad for some lean protein. Mix steamed vegetables from the hot bar into your pasta sauce for an added boost of fiber.

    As far as the junk food you mentioned, I prefer to refer to them as “treats,” as they can be a part of healthy diet, but should be limited. Allow yourself to enjoy the items mentioned at one to two meals per week. This way they are kept in moderation without making you feel deprived.

    SB: A lot of guys really get into working out and the gym in college. What would you say to one
    who asks you whether or not he should go to GNC and start loading up on creatine and protein shakes?

    MD: Oh, I have so many cases just like this one! Please stay out of GNC, there’s nothing nutritious about that place!

    The first thing I’d do is look at his diet and find out if he is getting enough protein, which more than likely, he is.

    When you consider that that protein needs are generally 0.8-1.0 g/kg of body weight, it’s not hard to see why most Americans consume too much protein, not too little. Once you realize that a 4 oz breast of chicken contains 35g of protein, one 8 oz glass of milk contains 9g, most people start to realize that they really can meet their protein needs by diet alone, making protein supplements unnecessary.

    Since the body cannot store excess protein, the unused portion is excreted in the urine once the excess calories have been absorbed. Digesting excess protein overworks the kidneys and when done for a long period of time, can lead to decreased kidney function.

    I find creatine in particular to be a huge waste of money. It retains water in the body, so muscles may appear larger, when in reality they’re just swollen with fluid. Creatine has not been shown to improve athletic performance and has no impact on actual muscle mass.

    Plus, it’s effects over the long term are not known and as a nutritionist, this makes me worry when so many students report using this supplement.

    Unfortunately, creatine and protein shakes are big money makers with a great marketing team. To stop people from spending their money on these products, everyone needs to understand that the only way to increase muscle mass is by consuming more total calories and spending more time weight training. It’s that simple.

    Extra protein will not lead to muscle growth. In fact, without proper exercise it will only lead to adipose tissue (fat) growth and, judging from the students I work with, that’s the last thing anyone wants.

    SB: In your experience, what are some common nutrition issues that tend to come up for college freshmen?

    MD: Freshman year is such an interesting and exciting time. For many students, going away to college is the first time in their lives that they have to make their own decisions regarding their diet. Not only are they choosing what they will eat, but when they will eat it, where it will come from and how much they will consume.

    In high school, many students live with family members who control their access to food and attend schools with set lunch times and menu offerings. They also have a set schedule between class, jobs, extra-curricular activities so high school days are often filled up.

    When students begin college, that schedule is turned upside down. There are often large breaks between classes or, sometimes, no break at all. All time management decisions are put on the student, which can result in over-eating from boredom and stress to undernourishment from not know what food choices to make and where to fit eating into the daily routine.

    Some of the most common issues I see are dehydration, stress and emotional eating, fatigue often due to lack of proper nourishment, skipping of meals, and extremely low fiber, fruit and vegetable intake and lack of physical activity.

    So many of these issues can be addressed by planning ahead. For all students, I suggest putting those back-packs to use and carrying a bottle of water (to be replenished throughout the day) and at least one snack at all times, such as a piece of fruit or a high fiber granola bar.

    Set small goals to drink the water, such as ‘by the end of my 10 AM class, I will have emptied this bottle’ and so on. To ensure that physical activity is not neglected when the demands of school go into full force, schedule workout into your week aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity four times per week.

    This can be as simple as extended walks around campus with new friends. Not only will it help to prevent the infamous freshman fifteen, it will also provide much needed opportunities to de-stress.

    For overeating due to stress and emotions, I suggest thinking of ways to deal with such feelings that do not involve eating. Perhaps writing e-mails to friends back home, practicing yoga, keeping a journal, exploring the campus or reading a new book – for pleasure, not for class!

    When eating, remember to listen to your body. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. Just because the dining hall is all you can eat, does not mean that you should eat more than you can comfortable handle.

    SB: Some students have never cooked before going to college. For those who have kitchens in their dorms, what would you suggest as quick meals or snacks they can make without having to turn on an oven or frying pan?

    MD: Use that microwave! Burritos are quite easy and cheap. I like to fill them with fresh vegetables, salsa, low-fat cheese, fat free sour cream or plain greek yogurt, beans or Morning Star farms “Grounds” (a great vegetarian soy-based beef substitute which is great in the microwave). The same ingredients can be used to make quesadillas in the microwave.

    Stock up on frozen vegetables and steam them in the microwave. Simply put them in a bowl with a small amount of water, cover with a paper towel, heat and voila! I think steamed broccoli spears are make for a very tasty snack.

    If you’re willing to boiling a pot of water, whole wheat pasta or Shirataki tofu noodles are highly nutritious.

    Serve either topped with bottled marinara sauce or make your own using canned stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried basil and oregano. Mix in some canned beans and perhaps some spinach and you’re in for treat. Serve with a salad for a great, high fiber meal.

    There are some great brown rice products that can be made in the microwave. Top them with beans or vegetarian chili, made as follows:

    1 can diced tomatoes with juice

    ½ c water

    ¼ c TVP (texturized vegetable protein)

    ½ can beans

    1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder (or more if you like it hot)

    ½ can corn.

    Microwave until heated through, about 4 minutes.

    Baked potatoes do very well in the microwave. Simply wash, poke several holes in them (this is the fun part) and cook. For small potatoes, about 4 min, for larger baking potatoes, about 7 min. Turn them mid-way through cooking. Split them open and top with chili (above), salsa, or 1 Tbsp olive oil and steamed vegetables.

    Super easy salsa: Mix 1 can of black beans, one can of corn, 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced tomato and ½ an onion, diced in a bowl. Dip in corn chips and enjoy!

    Tuna salad can be made using 1 can tuna (packed in water), ¼ c diced water chestnuts, ¼ c diced green pepper, 1 Tbsp diced onion, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 2 Tbsp Nayonaisse (a mayo substitute available in most grocery stores). Serve on bread or crackers or roll into a leaf of romaine lettuce.

    Fruit parfait: fresh fruit slices (or you can use frozen fruits defrosted in the microwave) in plain yogurt flavored with 1 tsp all fruit preserves or honey. Mix in ¼ c of Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal and 1 tsp ground flax seed

    SB: Many college students are on limited budgets, which greatly affects their food shopping decisions. What advice can you share with someone who is strapped for cash but does not want to eat greasy Chinese takeout night after night?

    MD: Greasy take out can add up in dollars and on your waistline! I find it can be much more healthy and cost effective to prepare your own food.

    Anyone who is strapped for cash yet wants great fresh foods should shop at their local farmer’s market. Here you can find the highest quality, best tasting produce available for great prices – and your supporting local agriculture.

    One tip here is to shop at the end of the day, usually 5-6 pm, when farmers are preparing to leave. This is when you can get the absolute best deals.

    Eat fresh foods seasonally. If you want a strawberry in December, it’s going to cost you quite a bit – and it probably won’t taste that great. By waiting until strawberry season (May – August) you’ll be able to buy pints of delicious berries and a much lower cost.

    During winter months, turn to fruits like citrus and apples or rely on frozen items. If you have access to a freezer, stocking up on frozen produce can save you a bundle. These foods are picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately frozen, bringing a high quality product to your table at a low cost.

    Buy foods in their whole form. Yes, this will take some extra time and effort on your part, but the cost difference, and often the taste difference, is well worth it.

    For example, it is much cheaper to buy whole carrots and peel them yourself than to buy baby carrots. Likewise, a bag of dried beans is far more cost effective than canned and ready eat varieties. Just be sure that you can soak them overnight and boil them prior to eating.

    Buy in bulk. If you find yourself liking items such as granola bars and cereal, you can often stock up buy ordering them on-line straight from the manufacturer at about half the price.

    Get to know the neighborhood. One store may have great prices on cereal while the store across the street has low priced yogurt. And as an added bonus, you get a little physical activity by walking to both!

    Always make a list before going food shopping. Consult recipes and plan out your meals and snacks for the week so that you only have to shop once. Budget out the shopping list and estimate the total cost. Only carry a set amount of cash to the store so that you will stick to your list and not be tempted to buy other items. Just make sure you stick to that list and don’t forgo your planned items for that two for $5 ice cream special!

    If you are going to do take-out, combine restaurant meals with homemade items. For example, if you and a friend are really in the mood for Thai food, order one take-out entrée, split it and serve it with steamed vegetables or a salad. You’ll save money and calories.

    In fact, if you are really looking for a deal, many restaurants offer early-order specials, such as a list of entrees for half price when ordered before a certain time. Go ahead and order early to get the discount then store the food in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it later – along with more vegetables.

    A big thank you to Mary Dye for her time and exhaustive answers!


    Speaking With…: Lisa Sasson

    Lisa Sasson has been a clinical assistant professor at New York University’s Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health for 15 years, and has almost twenty years’ experience counseling clients in New York City with their weight management goals.

    She is also co-director of NYU’s Food, Nutrition and Culture summer study abroad program in Florence, Italy. It’s only appropriate, then, that one of her specialties is The Mediterranean Diet.

    Her knowledge of nutrition and outspoken, affable personality led to appearances on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and A& E as well as a one-on-one nutrition counseling session with supermodel Claudia Schiffer in 2004.

    Ms. Sasson is currently Nickelodeon’s nutrition consultant and has been featured in The New York Times, Reader’s Digest, Self, Time, Fitness, and was Allure Magazine’s nutrition makeover coach in 2005 and 2006.

    I sat down with Ms. Sasson and picked her brain regarding the latest fad diets. The result was a candid and insightful chat.

    Small Bites: How have diet fads evolved over the past few decades?

    Lisa Sasson: Nutrition reminds me of fashion. If you wait long enough, a certain diet will be in vogue again.

    For instance, when you look back 25 years ago, you see low-carb, high protein diets like Atkins and Scarsdale being advocated. These exact same diets resurfaced in 2003.

    Then, in the 90’s, diets were advocating counting grams of fat and eliminating it from your diet. In turn, people ate lots of carbs.

    Well, carbs, like all nutrients, have calories. Fat-free does not mean calorie-free.

    So, people ate lots of carbs and gained a lot of weight.

    SB: What themes do the most recent diet books have in common?

    LS: The glycemic index is back, and so is this idea of “good” versus “bad” carbs. Whole grains are also a focus of the newest diet books.

    Luckily, fat is becoming a component of most weight loss diets. Instead of calling for its elimination, the current books suggest eating healthy fats like olive oil, salmon, avocados, and nuts, which is a good push.

    SB: What’s your take on “good” versus “bad” carbs?

    LS: The problem I have with it is that there is no good scientific research demonstrating the importance of the glycemic index and “good” or “bad” carbs. So many factors affect the glycemic index of a food as it is. For example, the glycemic index of a potato varies depending on what you ate before, what you are eating with it, and how you prepare it.

    People take it out of context. A lot of these books focus on it because it’s a catch. It makes people think, “Oh! If I eat this I am going to lose weight.” It is a great way to draw someone into believing your book is special.

    SB: Which would you say is the best of the current diets?

    LS: Walter Willett’s book (Eat, Drink, and Weigh Less: A Flexible and Delicious Way to Shrink Your Waist Without Going Hungry) is one of the better ones.

    I liked it because he has a realistic approach. I wish he wasn’t so fixated on whole grains and the glycemic index, but he allows other carbs that may not be whole grains or “good” in the glycemic index to be incorporated.

    He also recommends healthy fats, and the meals featured in the book are simple to prepare.

    I liked Bob Greene’s book (The Best Life Diet) in the sense that it is done in increments and he goes into the psychological implications behind weight management.

    He also stresses the importance of exercise and being more physically active.

    You can’t talk about weight loss and not mention being more physically active. Not necessarily lifting weights, but just moving more. That’s the key to a healthy lifestyle.

    Exercising allows you to eat more, utilize glucose better, have more muscle mass and lose weight more quickly.

    SB: Are there any new diet books you aren’t too fond of?

    LS: Yes, The Sonoma Diet! The woman who wrote it, Connie Guttersen, is a registered dietitian. She should be ashamed! Do you know what her first “rule” is? “Throw out anything in your house that has white flour or sugar in it”!

    I mean, she takes pride in the fact that her diet mimics the Mediterranean Diet and then has the audacity to say, “Never eat pasta.”

    And then she has all these phases, or “waves”, as she refers to them. The first wave is VERY restricted. There is a whole list of foods you can’t have. You can only have certain veggies, certain nuts, and certain grains.

    There are also all these recipes that are so complicated. I was leafing through it and thinking, “Is someone really going to get home after a busy day and make these dishes?”

    The author also makes some outrageous statements. For example, she says you can’t eat fruit during phase one because of “the carbs”.

    That’s ridiculous because fruits are chock full of nutrients and fiber. Besides, they are delicious and sweet. There is absolutely no reason why people should not be allowed to eat fruit.

    Should you have limits? Of course. But to restrict a natural food makes no sense. I can’t accept that anything as natural as fruit should be eliminated from a diet.

    For someone to say, “I can’t eat an apple, I’m on a diet,” is just laughable.

    Oh, and throughout the whole diet you can only have Barilla Plus multigrain pasta, but not regular pasta. What bothers me is that Italians aren’t eating whole grain pasta.

    What matters more is what they’re putting on their pasta.

    SB: What do you mean?

    LS: In Italy, pasta has very little sauce on it. It’s eaten with beans and lots of vegetables, and it’s usually a side dish, not a huge meal. It is not a huge portion.

    SB: What would you say to someone who critiques nutritionists as being too objective when analyzing diets? It’s easy to look at the science, but what about the personal experience?

    LS: Funny you should ask that. I was looking at all these diets and thought to myself, “What does it feel like to go on these diets?” I wanted to really experience it “from the other side”, so to speak, so I decided to go on South Beach for 2 weeks. I followed it very strictly.

    The good thing was that while I was on it, I had very little freedom, so I was not tempted to just pick or snack mindlessly.

    So, it was easy in the sense that there wasn’t much choice. I was so hungry that whatever I ate, I enjoyed.

    The bad thing is that, while dieting, I continued living my normal life. It was very difficult to exercise during these two weeks. Yoga was particularly taxing.

    I was so low on carbs that I was glycogen-deprived, and glycogen is the main source of fuel. I felt light-headed, had terrible headaches, and was very moody.

    It was also hard for me to look forward to the social aspect of a meal. The joy and pleasure of food was taken out.

    After five days I couldn’t look at another egg because every morning I had one for breakfast. I also found it frustrating that I couldn’t just have a glass of wine with dinner.

    SB: So, psychologically, it was difficult.

    LS: Yeah, and what I hate about all these diet books is that none acknowledge that losing weight is not always easy.

    They talk about how delicious their recipes are and all the variety they offer and how you wake up and get to eat delicious things like ricotta cheese with Sweet and Low and Cocoa powder, which, ugh, I don’t know how anyone can find that tasty. It’s disgusting.

    And, again, none of these books mention fatigue or boredom. They dismiss it. All they talk about is how you’re going to lose all this weight in two weeks, and how you have so much choice, and how with each phase you can eat more. Please. I wanted to search the index for “headaches” and “moodiness” to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.

    SB: What about food shopping?

    LS: Oh, God! I would go to the supermarket and put all these artificial food products into my cart. I had diet gellatin, diet popsicles, diet ice cream, and all these products with fifty ingredients.

    Diet Jello became my best friend because I would make 2 boxes a day and make it when I was hungry. I would eat eggs, diet Jello, sugar-free pops, sugar free this, sugar free that. Meanwhile, I’m thinking, “This is expensive and I can’t have fresh fruits in my cart!”

    SB: What are some common pitfalls dieters make?

    LS: Setting unrealistic expectations. Rather than think of this as a change of their lifestyle, people just think of it as “I need to lose 40 pounds by my birthday.”

    Healthy eating goes hand in hand with living healthfully. So, apart from eating well, people should exercise and sleep enough. All these things affect your eating habits.

    Don’t look at weight loss as “I need to eat more blueberries and less salmon” or some mathematical equation.

    Also, learn to listen to your body. It lets you know when you are hungry, full, or satisfied. A lot of times people can’t differentiate between hunger and boredom. You shouldn’t feel stuffed after you eat.

    Also, it’s a good idea to eat BEFORE you feel famished. This will reduce your chances of overeating or choosing unhealthy foods to immediately curb hunger.

    SB: How should people who want to lose weight prepare themselves psychologically?

    LS: First of all, have realistic expectations. Healthy weight loss is approximately 1 pound a week. So, for twenty pounds, you are looking at four to five months.

    The key is to think of this as lifestyle changes. You want to lose this weight forever, not just so you
    can show off your body at the beach and then not worry about it because in the winter you hide under baggy sweaters and jackets.

    When you lose weight quickly and go on these ridiculous restricted diets, you slowly start breaking the rules and then ease into your normal eating habits. So, what you need to change is your eating habits, and that’s going to take time.

    When you make long term commitment, you will forever have a healthier relationship with food. Weight loss will not be at the forefront, it’s going to be changing the way you eat. Eating healthfully, physical activity.

    It doesn’t – and shouldn’t — mean you can’t have desserts two times a week or pepperoni pizza a few times a month. The idea is that these foods should play less of a role. Healthy eating is not about one meal or one food, it’s about dietary patterns.

    People don’t succeed on overly restrictive diets because they focus on specific nutrients instead of changing their lifestyle. People get stuck on eating less of this, more of that, and it becomes difficult to sustain socially, culturally, physically, and emotionally.

    SB: Say someone is reading this and wants to start losing weight today. What would you recommend as a good starting point?

    LS: The first thing I tell my clients is to get rid of liquid calories. Liquids do not satiate the way food does, so it ultimately leaves room to consume more calories.

    Also, these can easily be substituted with lower calorie healthy beverages. So I would begin by replacing sodas, juices, high fat milk, beer, alcoholic beverages, cocktails, and sugary iced teas with flavored sparkling water, diluted juices, unsweetened teas, and low or non-fat milk.

    Then, each day try to do more physical movement than what you currently do. It can just be an extra ten minutes of walking every day. Then, two or three weeks later, add ten more minutes. Build it up slowly.

    Don’t focus on how little you are doing. Whatever you do — even if it’s a five minute jog — is positive.

    People just see the long-term goal and lose sight of the small steps in between. They say, “I can’t get to the gym tonight. I might as well eat a whole pizza.” Well, if you can’t go to the gym, walk for 10 or 15 minutes in your neighborhood.

    Also, pay attention to what you feel when you eat. Before you put something in your mouth, ask yourself, “am I hungry? Or bored?” Rate your hunger. When you feel satisfied, try to stop.

    Don’t buy things that make you feel vulnerable. If potato chips are irresistible, don’t have them in your house. If you have to buy them for other family members, put them somewhere out of your way so you have some time to think before reaching for them.

    Focus on fresh fruits and vegetables. Don’t get hung up on this fruit, this vegetable. If you eat close to nature, if you are eating less processed food, you are already doing a really good job. Don’t think about eliminating plums and then eating watermelon only after the third week. Fruit is healthy!

    SB: How can people spot a well-rounded “diet” book versus one that is unrealistic to follow?

    LS: I don’t like books that tell you, “throw out everything that has white flour or sugar! Don’t eat these foods for six weeks!” It’s so ridiculous. Telling someone to ban 30 different foods does not mean they will stick to it or lose weight.

    Also, these super strict rules are unnecessary. You don’t have to subsist on whole grain pasta or brown rice to lose weight. It’s OK to eat normal pasta as long as it is cooked healthily and you aren’t having three cups of it for dinner.

    If you don’t like whole grain pasta, it’s OK. It’s not the magic weight loss solution. If you’re drowing your pasta in alfredo sauce, it doesn’t matter if it’s whole grain or not.

    I like books that talk about making healthy changes rather than eliminate foods.

    I like books that aren’t about just seeing the top of the mountain, but rather about the steps you need to take to get there. Looking at that tall mountain can seem overwhelming and defeating. People should be encouraged to concentrate on small, continuous steps. That’s a much healthier, more realistic approach.

    I also think a good plan incorporates cultural sensitivity. Not everyone drinks milk, so to tell people to get calcium from dairy, that’s very shallow. Some cultures don’t drink milk and their calcium intake is just fine.

    Thanks again to Lisa Sasson for a fun and thorough interview!

    Over the next few weeks, Ms. Sasson will be analyzing some of today’s hottest diets. Come back to find out which ones make the honor roll and which make the hall of shame.


    Speaking With…: Lisa Young

    Dr. Lisa R. Young, RD, CDN, is a world renowned portion size expert.

    After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Economics and Health Care Administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, she received her doctorate and master’s degrees in nutrition from New York University, where she has served as adjunct professor for 15 years.

    Her doctorate thesis focused on the link between increased portion sizes and rising obesity rates in the United States, and eventually led to the publishing of her first book, The Portion Teller: The No-Diet Reality Guide to Eating, Cheating, and Losing Weight Permanently.

    Over the past few years, Dr. Young has been featured on The Today Show, CNN, MSNBC, ABC World News Tonight, and several magazines, including O, Good Housekeeping, Forbes, Shape, Allure, Newsweek, and Elle.

    Her clips, appearances, and research papers can be viewed at her website The Portion Teller.

    I was fortunate enough to talk to her one on one about the United States’ increasing portion distortion problem.

    Your research clearly demonstrates a correlation between larger portion sizes and an increase in obesity, and there are studies showing that the more food we are provided, the more we consume. Does this mean our bodies are not efficient hunger self-regulators?

    Large portions have contributed to growing obesity rates because they contain more calories than small portions.

    I think the problem is that because we are surrounded by large food portions at cheap prices which encourage us to “eat more,”– whether at fast-food places, movie theaters, bakeries, delis we have lost our ability to regulate how hungry we are.

    Unfortunately, we eat with our “eyes” and when we see big portions of food around, even if we don’t even like the taste, we tend to eat it. And then, instead of feeling “comfortably full,” we end up feeling “stuffed.”

    Everyone knows a Big Mac and large fries add up to caloric overload. However, are there “healthy sounding/looking” or “harmless” foods people eat large quantities of, unaware of the high number of calories they are taking in?

    The vitamin enhanced waters and the gumballs and gummy bears sold as “multivitamins” for kids!

    People often like to rationalize why they eat something and when they see that they are getting a food marketed as a vitamin or enhanced with vitamins they think it is health food and they completely overlook the fact that the foods contain any calories.

    I counsel clients who would never drink soda but they are big fans of vitamin enhanced waters (until, of course, I tell them to read the labels!) Another healthy sounding beverage which people think is not too caloric is the jumbo fruit smoothies. While they do contain some fruit, they are also loaded with sugar and calories.

    Rule of thumb: we are better off “chewing” our calories than “slurping” them.

    Are there specific places, events, or times where we are most prone to portion distortion?

    Two of the biggest offenders would be the fast-food places ad the movie theaters. When McDonald’s first opened, a soda was seven ounces; today it is 32 ounces.

    And a bucket of popcorn is so big these days that it is large enough to feed an entire row. Also, the large popcorn at the movie theater is a better value so consumers are encouraged to “supersize”.

    Baked goods such as muffins and bagels have also blown up in size; a typical muffin at a deli is equivalent to 6-cups of cereal and a bagel is equivalent to 5 bread slices. People have no problem grabbing a muffin or bagel on their way to work but would think twice before consuming 5 slices of bread in one sitting.

    Many times when people hear the words “portion control”, they incorrectly envision a lunch of two lettuce leaves, three tomato slices, and one jumbo shrimp. What are some tips you would suggest for people who are looking to lose weight but need to see a lot of food on their plate?

    It is okay to eat large portions of certain foods as long as these foods are healthy and not loaded with too many calories. In fact, filling up on low-calorie healthy foods often helps people stick to a weight-loss program so they don’t feel deprived.

    Some examples would be to eat fresh fruit such as berries and melons which contain a high water content. Starting a meal with a healthy low-fat salad with a large assortment of veggies (watch the dressing, of course) and including cooked veggies such as broccoli and asparagus with your dinner adds volume to your food. An added bonus is that fruits and vegetables are also rich in vitamins and minerals.

    Finally, a great snack for “volume lovers” is air popped popcorn.

    Do you find it strange and frustrating that restaurants and fast food chains selling smaller entrees and desserts specifically label these as exclusively for “children under 12”? Why not call this part of the menu “for the portion conscious” and make it more acceptable for adults to order from it?

    I do indeed. And I completely agree with you. It would be a huge step in the right direction if portion-conscious adults were able to order these foods as well.

    Throughout your years of research, what are two or three statistics that still stand out as truly surprising or shocking?

    I found it truly shocking just how much portions have grown. Fast-food portions are two to five times larger than they were when they were first introduced.

    While I mentioned the McDonald’s soda example above, it is truly shocking that 7-Eleven markets a “Big Gulp” containing 64 oz of soda—a half gallon!—with nearly 800 calories and 50 teaspoons of sugar! The company first opened with the 16 oz size.

    What is even more shocking is that cup holders found in cars have also become larger to accommodate these drinks.

    Also, while a fast-food hamburger used to contain only 1.5 oz of meat, today they often contain 8 or even 12 oz of meat in one sandwich. Consider Hardee’s Monster Thickburger which contains 2/3 of a pound of meat (12 oz) along with several cheese and bacon slices, special sauce, and white bread. No wonder it contains 1400 calories.

    Some of these jumbo foods contain enough calories for an entire day.

    You were featured in “SuperSize Me!“, which resulted in consumers becoming more aware of the outrageous sizes offered at many fast food establishments. Have there been positive changes in this realm?

    With the focus on increasing obesity rates in both adults and children, we would hope that food companies would scale back on portions. However, according to my most recent research on portion sizes at large fast-food chains, published in the Journal of Public Health Policy, portions are not getting any smaller.

    In fact, in many cases, they are getting bigger. Just last year, Burger King introduced BK Stacker sandwiches in four sizes: Single, Double, Triple, and Quad. The Quad size has four beef patties, weighs over 11 oz, and contains 1000 calories.

    The largest fast-food companies are also involved in sleight of name. Last year, Wendy’s, for example, discontinued the terms “Biggie” and “Great Biggie” to describe its French fries and soda. However, the former “Biggie” soda is now called “Medium,” and the company introduced a new larger size called “Large.”

    While McDonald’s discontinued the “Supersize” soda in 2004, it is now marketing a new soda called “Hugo,” the exact same volume and calorie content as the discontinued “Supersize.” And, unfortunately, we eat more when large portions end up on our plates.

    Dr. Young is a top of the line, sought-after private practitioner in New York City who is “available for individual counseling sessions on a wide variety of nutrition-related issues including obesity and weight control, disease prevention, wellness, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, eating disorders, gastrointestinal disorders, pregnancy, lactation, menopause, and vegetarianism.”

    If interested, you may contact her at 212-560-2565 or: lisa.young@portionteller.com

    Thanks again to Dr. Young for offering her time and knowledge!


    Speaking With…: Marion Nestle

    Considering who my first interviewee is, I could not be more thrilled to introduce the new “Speaking With…” section.

    Marion Nestle, Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, is a world-renowned nutrition and food guru. If the subject is broached, you are bound to find at least one quote from her (often as the voice of reason).

    Armed with an MPH in public health nutrition and a Ph.D. in molecular biology, Dr. Nestle is able to approach nutrition from a multitude of angles and consider its implications not only on human health, but also the environment and economy.

    Over the past four years, she has released the following books:

    Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Food and Nutrition (2003)
    Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health (2003; out on paperback on October 15, 2007)
    Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism (2004)
    What to Eat (2006)

    Earlier this year, she debuted in cyberspace with her own blog, which has been a Small Bites “recommended link” since its inception.

    Dr. Nestle was also featured in Morgan Spurlock’s highly acclaimed documentary SuperSize Me! (she was the one producers turned to when they needed someone to define the word “Calorie”).

    Now, she sits down with Small Bites for an exclusive interview.

    Do you find it frustrating that simple advice like “eat more fruits and vegetables” can be twisted by food companies to sell fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt, frozen vegetables smothered in cheese sauce, and apple slices “buddied up” with small containers of caramel or chocolate for dipping?

    Frustrating? No, I think it’s unimaginative.

    These additions are basic marketing strategies. The big profits in the food industry are in “added value,” which is what you do when you add fruit to yogurt and caramel sauce to apple slices.

    Fruits and vegetables are difficult to brand–one head of cauliflower is much like another—so the profit margins are low.

    I like to ask: why do all foods have to be sweet? Foods have so many marvelous flavors and textures. It’s a shame that the only thing food marketers can get anyone to buy is cloyingly sweet (or salty).

    Your career has literally taken you all over the world. Apart from smaller portions, what do you think people in the United States can learn from other societies in terms of how they approach eating and nutrition?

    People in many other countries have such different attitudes about food. For one thing, they don’t think all foods have to be sweet. For another, they eat way smaller portions.

    The marketing of food is so much quieter—you don’t see as much advertising or absurd health claims on food packages. That is changing, of course. I am just back from Australia where I could not believe the amount of Shrek marketing. Supermarkets and McDonald’s outlets were covered with pictures of Shrek—on the junkiest foods imaginable.

    Looking at obesity and smoking as public health issues, why do you think smoking has become something people increasingly look down on, whereas obesity often brings along issues of victimization, helplesness, and boundaries?

    If a person lights up a cigarette at a party, his/her friends will have no qualms telling them it’s gross and unhealthy, but if someone goes out to dinner with friends and orders a double cheeseburger with French fries, it’s considered horribly rude and inappropriate to suggest they consider forgoing the cheese, or replacing the French fries with a baked potato.

    Food isn’t tobacco. The message for tobacco is simple: don’t smoke. The public health goal is also simple: put tobacco companies out of business. I don’t know anyone who wants to put food companies out of business. Food isn’t poison. We have to eat.

    The issues are what to eat and how much. There is so much evidence now that factors in the environment encourage people to eat more food, more often, in larger amounts. It isn’t enough to say that people should just exercise personal responsibility and say no to food.

    We need to change the food environment to make it easier for people to eat more healthfully.

    Do you think part of the health crisis in this country relates to the line between “junk food” and “health food” becoming dangerously blurred? For example, a “healthy” protein bar can deliver 100% of vitamins and minerals as well as 350 calories, 50% of one’s daily saturated fat limit and 20% of the maximum sodium recommendation.

    Meanwhile, sugary cereals made with whole grains have gone mainstream, sushi rolls are drowning i
    n mayonnaise and contain deep fried fish, and flavored waters with as much sugar as a can of soda are marketed as health drinks.

    We are back to marketing again. Remember: the American food supply provides 3,900 calories a day for every man, woman, and child in the country—roughly twice average need. Even people who overeat have limits on what they can take in.

    So the food industry is hugely competitive. Under our investment system, it not only has to make profits; it must grow those profits every 90 days. So the food industry is basically stagnant with one exception: foods perceived as healthy.

    If you can take the trans fat out of your junk food, add vitamins or antioxidants, or add a bit of whole grains, you can market it as “healthy.” Will doing this really help people improve their health? I’m skeptical.

    What is your take on food addiction? Can some people truly be addicted to sugar and flour in the same way they can develop a physiological need for caffeine?

    I don’t like to use the word “addiction” to refer to food. Food gives us life. We can’t live without it.

    The research says that food stimulates the same pleasure centers as addictive drugs but not nearly to the same degree. And careful research on people claiming that they were addicted to chocolate, for example, could not find anything in chocolate to which anyone could be dependent.

    People just love eating chocolate, which doesn’t seem like addiction to me.

    Let’s fast forward a year. Do you think Alli will continue to be a best-seller?

    MN: I don’t have a crystal ball but my guess is that sales will decline when people discover that they don’t lose as much weight with it as they had hoped. Alli just forces people to eat less fat (because the consequences of overeating fat are unpleasant, not to say embarrassing).

    But it’s easy to compensate for those calories with carbohydrates. And when it comes to body weight, it’s calories that count—no matter where they come from.

    I want to once again thank Marion Nestle for granting me this interview, especially considering her busy schedule.

    For the past few months (in between conferences, meetings, lectures, and book tours), she has been conducting exhaustive research for her next book — tentatively titled What Pets Eat — which will tackle the nutrition of our pets, mainly dogs and cats.

    It promises to be revealing, myth-shattering, and another success in Dr. Nestle’s career.


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