Just so you know.

January’s a crazy month schoolwise for me (and if you hadn’t already guessed, I was on holiday for the bulk of December), but I will be back plugging away at the old routine come February. I’ve actually got several posts in the pipe right now, but no time to finish them off to my satisfaction.

That said, I will probably surprise myself with random posting at some point between now and then — never say never.

If you’re into this kind of thing, please feel free to use this as an open thread of sorts. Random questions and arguments always welcome.

I’ll get the ball rolling by extending something I was kvetching about on Twitter — that because a therapeutic diet is used for the treatment of a specific condition or disease does not mean it is therefore a healthy diet for most people. But I see this argument used again and again by people who’ve come to Jesus (figuratively) by finding a specific diet that helps or even cures their particular ailment, as in the case of gluten intolerance.

And to that, I say, fabulous! I’m glad you found the thing that works for you. Because, truly, different people have different nutritional needs. And it’s often up to us to figure out what those needs are, and what works best, for ourselves.

What I don’t say is, fabulous! Please continue proselytizing as though this diet is now The Answer to All of Humanity’s Ills.

What I also don’t say is, fabulous! By finding a diet that treats your condition, you have also likely stumbled upon the diet that would therefore prevent said condition from occurring in other people.

Cause it just ain’t necessarily so.

Thoughts? Examples? Swearwords? You know what to do.

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50 Comments

  1. Carolyn
    Posted January 11, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    Ahhhh yus. This is so true. It reminds me of what I read in the book By Marc David. He says that it’s pretty ridiculous that we don’t acknowledge that nutritional needs change over time. When you’re young, old, sick or whatever, nutritional needs change. He makes a correlation between people who “find Jesus” (my words not his) in a new detox diet or whatever, only to find out later that what originally seemed helpful now makes them feel like crap (often disguised neatly as “oh, I feel like crap because I’m detoxing. I feel awful because of all the HORRIBLE TOXINS leaving my body”). Uhmmm, yeah, you feel like crap because what you’re doing isn’t working for you. IMHO.

    I would like to say that I am a reformed diet-groupie. I spent many years of my life hopping from one magical fixall to the next. And I TOTALLY was one of the people who was 100% convinced that I had found the cure for humanity and wasted no time in informing other people of that. Can I chalk it up to being young(er) and naive? Yeah, lets use that excuse. LOL

    I am actually one of the people who has a gluten issue that I am trying to work out. I’m pretty damn grateful that I am getting to do it in this stage of my life where I have a measure of peace and don’t feel the need to convert anyone to my “diet”. Before, I couldn’t even live in a house that had food in it which didn’t fit my “food plan” (much to my husbands dismay and general hunger). Sadly, my husband was the one who bore the brunt of my diet fanaticism. Lord knows what possessed me to think that a 30 year old, 6’4 man who performs physical labor and enjoys weight lifting needs to eat precisely what a 26 year old 5’9 woman with Hypothyroidism and depression needs to eat.

    I chalk much of my fanatical reform up to working with Michelle (Hi Michelle! :} ) and learning that I am not the second coming of diet nirvana and the best thing I can do is figure out what works for me and let everyone else worry about what works for them.

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Oh, and don’t feel bad. I was totally a fanatical diet groupie at one point of my life too. I think it’s a phase everyone has to go through.

      And you’re also a perfect example of a situation in which, YES, a special diet is required in order for you to feel and function well — but not because it’s somehow the answer to everyone else’s problems.

  2. Carolyn
    Posted January 11, 2010 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    oh, epic HTML fail, it burns. . . .

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      There, I fixed it for you :)

      • Carolyn
        Posted January 11, 2010 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

        Thank you! :)

  3. Posted January 11, 2010 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    oh yes, i know exactly what you are talking about. thank you for bringing this up. i have rheumatoid arthritis and EVERY TIME someone learns of this for the first time, they have dietary advice for me. it’s insulting, truth be told and it angers me greatly. if i wanted your advice, i’m thinking, i would have asked you for it. it never ceases to amaze me how many people have the miracle herb, food, whatever and almost get excited to share with me how their uncle bob’s knee is all better now that he ate nothing but yellow corn for three days. i hope you write more on this!

    • Posted January 12, 2010 at 7:19 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, we got that when our son was diagnosed with ADHD. Everybody knew better than he did what he should not eat. This was an active, physically healthy little dude with a good appetite and varied tastes. He did not need interfering with, thank you all very much.

  4. Posted January 11, 2010 at 9:09 am | Permalink

    The demon gluten seems to be the latest badass food. I’m having a really hard time believing it. I’ve come to the point where I say, if it doesn’t give me hives, I’m not going to try and cut it out. Hives is my allergic reaction and I’ve had some pretty nasty cases over the years, but only with drugs. I now know that I’m allergic to sulfa drugs and clyndamycine (spelling?) but not penicillin (as I had been told for most of my life). But food? Over the years, I’ve tried cutting out all refined sugars (got angry and gained weight from eating more to make up for the deprivation) and wheat (just got angry and out of sorts from the deprivation) for months at a time. As I said, the only thing I got was really angry. I say, NO MORE!

    This being said, last month I made latkes (potatoe pancakes) for Hannukah. As is the tradition, I fried them in oil but then patted them off with paper towelling to remove the excess oil. Although I only had four small ones, the next day, my stomach hurt. Am I becoming sensitive to too much oil? Don’t know. Maybe I’ll find out next Hannukah.

    I just can’t stand how more and more foods are being demonized. That’s my rant for the day.

    • Carolyn
      Posted January 11, 2010 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

      Wendy I’m with you on this one. As a person who actually has a gluten sensitivity, it is frustrating to see Gluten issues becoming a diet fad. IMHO it interferes with being able to find credible, reliable, scientific information on the subject because everyone and their uncle has a gluten hating diet book. It also becomes more difficult to get a doctor to take you seriously because when they see a fat patient come in who says “I have gluten sensitivities” they automatically hear “I’m fat and looking for an excuse” and this makes getting real treatment hard.

      I too have done the cutting out sugar, flour, wheat etc etc. And found that it was a lovely exercise in self flagellation. The only way I actually figured out what made me feel best was through intuitive eating. I finally put the dots together that: “Oh! When I eat a sandwich with bread – 20 minutes later I have urgent digestion issues which require immediate bathroom access.” and was able to adjust my diet accordingly. I still sometimes choose to eat gluten despite the known effects on my body but I’m okay with that. Because it’s my choice and I don’t follow any stupid diet rules.

      • Posted January 11, 2010 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

        Even some of the people I know who have followed a really strict gluten-free diet for years, because they’ve tested positive for celiac disease, have situations in which they give themselves leeway (like with soy sauce in restaurant Chinese food, and beer, etc.) Even in a situation like this, where vigilance is needed, people can only go so far sometimes. And people have different levels of willingness to let stuff slide. Totally a personal choice.

  5. Miriam Heddy
    Posted January 11, 2010 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    A lot of the latest “gluten is evil! I know, since I went off it and then tried a bit and wham!” is likely the result of the well-documented Nocebo Effect:
    http://www.skepdic.com/nocebo.html

    Likewise, the “sugar makes my kids frantic” and “even looking at carbs makes me sluggish” and the like.

    Also, January’s really wearing me down. Thank goodness TV’s in reruns for most of it, so I have no reason to watch.

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 9:59 pm | Permalink

      Confirmation bias is a hell of a drug.

  6. Posted January 11, 2010 at 10:41 am | Permalink

    I had to bite my tongue repeatedly during a group conversation the other night. A friend of mine is utterly convinced that if you (a) pick the right magic number of calories-per-day for reducing weight, based on your height, and (b) break that magic number into PRECISELY FIVE even chunks, consumed carefully and evenly throughout your day, you can lose weight down to a goal and reset your metabolism’s magic homeostasis switch to keep it there.

    As long as you KEEP doing the Five Magic Blah Blah Blah thing. She claims ‘there are studies’. Yeah, right. But I wasn’t going to start a fight in front of everyone; I hope she doesn’t give our mutual friend (who she was proselytizing at) a complex if she can’t manage to reduce while following the ‘magic formula’.

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      The first thing that occurs to me is — damn, what a total drag. I wouldn’t want to spend my life eating as though I were preparing a financial balance sheet.

  7. Daniel M.
    Posted January 11, 2010 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

    I myself know a holy grail of stupid pseudoscience in this respecy.
    It is a book i read in czech (our language) that was translated from german,
    author Christine Heideklang, and name “Dangerous fungi around us” (my translation)
    It is just ridiculous.
    The author refers to just about every pseudoscientist in history, from wilhelm reich to rupert sheldrake, has no idea what is talking about, claims that fungi, mercury radioactivity, and “electrosmog” are the cause of just about every ilness, and honors Selenium as a cure to just about everything (not explicitly but few places of the book do not mention it)
    There is no bibliography, and there are pearls of stupid, such as “the electrosmog destroys coniferous trees mostly as their spines are like small antennae” “humous soil reflects atoms ” (name of a chapter, even)
    and much more. It even references lesser known pseudoscientists, which babble about things like AIDS being not caused by a virus but “unhealthy,unnatural lifestyle” and also other ridiculous claims
    It has no bibliography, and often there are nonsense numbers such as percentages without a comparison , or units without specifying what of…

    In fact when me and a friend want to have a laugh, we just read from it and it works better than nitrous oxide – once i even got a jaw cramp.

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 2:17 pm | Permalink

      I love this kind of stuff. The wackiness is like its own form of art.

      It’s interesting that you mention selenium. I know there are some people out there who seem to believe antioxidants (like selenium) are the cure for all life’s ills. So I found it really interesting to learn in school that there was a study a while back examining the effects of an antioxidant (beta carotene, aka Vitamin A) on the health of smokers — people who supposedly need extra antioxidant support for good health.

      So, the study supplemented smokers with beta carotene and then measured health outcomes — I think cardiac events. What they found was that the smokers supplemented with beta carotene were at significantly HIGHER risk of death than the others. To such an extent that they had to stop the trial for ethical reasons.

      I always think of that when I read something fishy about antioxidants. Even though something might seem to make sense intuitively, it doesn’t always work out that way in practice. And selenium itself can be deadly at high doses.

      • Daniel M.
        Posted January 11, 2010 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        I read somewhere that a good way to notice somebody is not being scientific but “religious” is that you will find the kind of one sin one punishment one rehabilitation set.
        For example in the blood group diet fad you have eating wrong lectins (sin) which cause blood cells to agglutinate (punishment ,the author ignores that if this was true, there would be a huge amount of strokes and lung embolias in all age groups …) and supposedly you must stop eating them …
        here it is the whole selenium thing ….

        I think i once have heard about the betacaroten paradox, but have thought it as a thing specific to betacaroten …

        You probably would be interested in some (still from that book) opinion of doctor Kuklinski “who when asked what diseases can be linked to lack of antioxidants boldly responded ‘All of them!’ ” :D

        Anyways my subject is engineering, so probably you know more about nutrition (I seem to have a similar approach to studying that you have described though , although more two-way – do nothing first as i am “scared” of the work thinking i am the worst one and then pull allnighters … with the result that is inexplicably good and could be usually excellent if some planned effort went in)
        (Minor correction – betacarotene is Provitamin A – Vit A is made from it in the liver. You probably know it but some reader might get out with a new ridiculous “fact”)

        There are some more fun quotes from it:
        “observed using an experimental dark field* method of microscopic observation”
        *with total absence of light n. orig. trnsl.
        This refers to two fields with some plants, one was reared normally other by some biological-dynamic method after the chernobyl accident
        “and although the count at the other plants was 500 Bq , the count at the plants in the b-d reared field was just 1 becquerel, which was not included in the final product”
        (The formulation is just awesome – i have a mental image of some crazy woman cutting off a plant part where it says 1 Bq)

        In other place it in a complicated way states that if you have a lack of blood sugar , eat something, but then follows by the absurd statement that you shouldnot eat carbohydrates or sugars (in this case) …

        The one i love most is how the dangers of “electrosmog” is demonstrated – she proposes soldering electrodes to ends of a depleted battery (to show that even a small current is enough, then put the electrodes in (sic) two different glasses of water, and in a few hours the water will change taste …
        I think everyone who ever operated an electric device sees where this fails.

        Another is how she imagines an experiment…
        she advocates abiogenesis in the pre-Pasteur sense (for example like Olga Lepesinska) – fungi , parasites or pretty much any similar lifeforms can be generated by themselves in a good substrate)
        An example she says of “evidence” is that she walked around a mound of excavated soil, with a high growth of wild poppy , although around there were small amounts of such plants and she cannot imagine how would so many seeds have gotten there.

        • Posted January 11, 2010 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

          The test of religious vs. scientific ideas reminds me of the “faith on the basis of reason” vs. “faith on the basis of passion” from, I think, Kierkegaard. Of course, when it comes to religious belief, having faith on the basis of passion makes sense.

          But when it comes to nutrition, or any other scientific field or theory? Uh, no…that’s not how it works. Cause nutrition is not a religion — its elements are observable, and our theories of nutrition are falsifiable.

          Very entertaining, thank you for the excerpt.

          (And yes, you’re absolutely right about beta carotene being pro-vitamin A, and not vitamin A itself. Good catch.)

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

      “Pearls of stupid”

      Love it.

  8. Posted January 11, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I do believe that there are people for whom cutting out gluten is a healthful move. I know someone who has found it beneficial to her health…but then she has celiac’s. For most of us it simply isn’t going to be helpful. We don’t have the same condition. We don’t need to go on the diet.

    Just as I don’t need to go on a low-carb diabetic diet just because it’s helping my husband control his diabetes, those of us not suffering from celiac’s don’t need to cut out gluten. Those who do have a serious problem, though? I’m glad they have their needs attended to.

    And as soon as I get far enough over this cold to want real food again, I’m baking a damn cake. I want cake, but it’s not going to taste good until I can consistently breathe through my nose again.

    Different ages, different health profiles, different activity patterns, they all require different ways of eating. When are we going to accept that?

    • Carolyn
      Posted January 11, 2010 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      “Different ages, different health profiles, different activity patterns, they all require different ways of eating. When are we going to accept that?”

      HERE HERE!! Exactly!

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 10:00 pm | Permalink

      Ooooh, cake.

  9. emgee
    Posted January 11, 2010 at 1:50 pm | Permalink

    Hi, Michelle,
    This is me shamelessly taking advantage of your invitation for random questions. I am 5’5″, probably about 220, and take meds for high blood pressure and hypothyroid. Blood tests have shown me somewhat borderline blood sugar for diabetes, but no diagnosis. I exercise about 4-5 times per week, 3 of those times are usually an hour of Jazzercise, usually after work, but sometimes in the morning. I’ve pretty much stopped trying to lose weight, yet still hope for the “burn the fat” effect, but if I don’t eat before I exercise, afterward I get a headache and my vision starts to go all black, which I’m interpreting as low blood sugar. So I try to eat something before the workout, but it seems I’m eating too much or too little, and WHY THE HELL CAN’T MY BODY BURN THE FAT IT HAS AN ABUNDANCE OF–GRRRRRR?
    Ahem…sorry…was hoping you might have some suggestions of just the right thing and/or amount to eat to not feel I am sabotaging my own exercise efforts.
    Thanks!

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, you definitely need to eat something before exercising, or else your body just plain old doesn’t have the energy it needs in order to do that exercise.

      What I’m curious about is, how would you describe your primary reason for exercising? I ask because you mention “sabotaging” your exercise efforts. In my opinion, eating food does not sabotage anything — in fact, it’s a necessary prerequisite in order to be able to exercise. (Of course, if you truly eat to the point of physical discomfort, where it actually interferes with moving around, that’s one thing. But if you just mean “eating too much” to mean “I therefore won’t burn fat by exercising,” well, I think there’s something “off” there.)

      So what’s your primary reason for exercising? What are you hoping to achieve? Is it primarily fat loss, or are there other reasons too?

      • emgee
        Posted January 12, 2010 at 1:52 pm | Permalink

        Interesting question. I am a recovering Weight Watcher/dieter, but it’s a process. I started exercising to lose weight/burn fat, but since that seems hopeless, I continue to do it to keep healthy and try to prevent diabetes. But I still get hung up on the idea that fat is stored energy, so why doesn’t my body draw on that stored energy when I haven’t eaten immediately prior to the exercise. It seems like when I eat before exercising I must be cancelling out the burning of stored energy (fat), you know? I know I must be all wet here (or “off”, as you say!), and maybe it’s just the diet mentality still hanging on. So what and how much pre-exercise snack do you recommend?

        • Posted January 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

          Well, normally I’d recommend as much as you’re hungry for!

          So, the thing is, when you’re exercising, you’re primarily drawing on glucose stored in your liver and in your muscle cells — at least at first. Your body uses fuel in weird and sometimes counterintuitive ways. There will be a mixture of fat-burning and glucose-using when you exercise, but it’s not likely you can manipulate it much by changing what you eat (except in the case of carb loading, which a lot of athletes do before major activity so that their muscles have lots of immediate fuel — the glucose from the carbs — to draw on.)

          In the case of someone whose goal is really more about fitness and general health (and, hopefully, having a kick-ass fun time), the idea is basically to just eat enough so that you can move comfortably. If this means having a meal before exercise, do that. If it means only have a snack before, because that feels more comfortable to you, and then having a snack afterward, do that.

          The bottom line is, you need the fuel (in the form of carbohydrate/glucose) in order to move in the first place. And only by getting that movement going do you have the chance of burning *some* percentage of fat along with it. But you can’t shift gears so that your body is burning ONLY fat as fuel — it’s a very messy fuel for your body to burn, with lots of waste material to get rid of afterward, and bodies typically only shift to primarily burning fat when they are starving (either by not getting enough food overall, or not getting enough carbohydrate to provide the necessary glucose.)

          This is kind of a sloppy answer, but what I’m trying to say is: you’re not just going to burn fat when you exercise, regardless of whether you ate or didn’t eat before exercising. Your body has a small store of glucose it will use (along with a bit of fat), and when it runs out of that glucose, you will hit a wall and it will be very difficult (and unpleasant) to exercise past that point.

          That’s not a good point to get to if your goal is to consistently exercise so that you can remain fit and enjoy yourself. So please, eat.

          Oh, and I wanted to add: even if you eat before exercising, the exercise is still going to have a beneficial effect on your insulin sensitivity — so if you’re worried about becoming insulin resistant, the best thing you can do is continue to exercise regularly. And in order to do that, the best thing you can do is 1) find something REALLY FUN that you love doing, and 2) eat enough to support yourself.

          • Daniel M.
            Posted January 12, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

            Actually you might force body to do that if you eat mostly protein and set a mild ketose to yourself – that is what some of the fad diets so , or so i have read
            But, it is unhealthy, and equally prone to return of weight like anything else

          • Posted January 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

            Yes. And the ketosis can cause acidosis of the blood, leading to bone loss. So…maybe not a great idea.

            And even some of those medically-supervised fasts contain enough carbohydrate to have a “protein-sparing” effect — because when you don’t eat enough food in general, not only do you lose fat, your body starts to catabolize its own muscle tissue (such as your heart.) Not good!

          • Daniel M.
            Posted January 12, 2010 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

            Well, true.
            Anyway – most i know about acidosis and ketosis is from cattle goats etc. rearing – my uncle was a zootechnic at the local combine and i was an interested child …
            For those animals it is even worse – ketosis or acidosis can kill the good intestinal microflora/ promote the bad one, and bye bye digestion , hello bullet to the back of head / knife to neck

  10. Entangled
    Posted January 11, 2010 at 7:10 pm | Permalink

    Great point! I get so fed up with people thinking that just because something works for them, it is the Great, Moral Way Everyone Should Eat. The low-carb ones annoy me particularly because my body does not work that way. If I don’t eat starches, it just makes me so hungry that I eat protein and fat until I am physically ill (but still hungry). I actually came to realize that I needed not only carbs, but white flours in my diet or there was no way to feed myself enough energy without consuming so much fiber that I was sick. Yet there are people who get violently ill from bread… huh, you wouldn’t think we’re different people with different bodies, would you? /sarcasm

    • Posted January 11, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, contrary to popular belief, just about everyone needs carbohydrate in order to live.

      Now, the type and amount of those carbohydrates may be up for debate, but the fact that people NEED a bare minimum of carb for, you know, essential brain function? Not really optional.

      Even people who can’t metabolize carb (i.e., those with diabetes) still must utilize them in order to survive. (Otherwise, what would be the point of giving them insulin? They could just never eat carb again and survive on protein, fat, and dietary fibre, right? Nope, doesn’t work that way.)

      • Posted March 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

        If I had a nickel for the number of people who told me “Oh it COULDN’T have been the diet!” when I let them know I tried Atkins and passed out while on it. Yes, I stood up and passed out. I sat down and passed out. I felt like utter crap, and passed out. After the third time I ate some pasta and felt amazingly better.

        But no, it couldn’t be because I had cut an entire category of food from my eating – it was something else. LOL!

  11. mara
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 1:11 am | Permalink

    Michelle, I just discovered your blog a few days ago, and I am totally hooked. You just make SO MUCH SENSE. I’m going to be grandmotherly and say what I feel like saying, which is Bless you, my dear.

    (I’m not sure where that came from. I’m not a grandmother. I am about ten years older than you, though, so maybe that’s making me feel.. matronly and yet very admiring)

    A couple of weeks ago I was at a cafe with a friend, and I decided to get a peanut butter cookie. I asked for one, and the girl beshind the counter said “Do you want the gluten-free cookie?” And I said… sometimes I speak before I think… i said “Noooo… No, I don’t THINK so.. I want the one that tastes really GOOD”. And I must have embarrassed my friend, who proceeded to advocate for the gluten-free cookie, saying that it probably DID taste really good. So I got it. And it was okay, but not the one that I remembered from before, and not the one that tasted really GOOD that I’d been fantasizing about.

    Okay, so, then I tried to figure out what it was about the immediate “gluten free” suggestion in answer to my cookie request that … well, annoyed me. I didn’t quite get there.. I mean, I still don’t quite understand, but I came up with several things:

    ‘Gluten free’ when it comes to confectionary can just mean ‘flourless’, right? I mean, I know it can also mean that it’s made with rice flour or whatnot, but in this case, I think it was a flourless cookie.. oh, wait, is that possible? Hmm… well, my point is. I wouldn’t turn up my nose at, for example, “Flourless Chocolate Cake”. Yum. But if someone chose to call that self-same cake “Gluten free Chocolate Cake”? It just SOUNDS less appealing. Okay, but why would that offend me? I mean, are food namers under some kind of obligation to make things sound appealing? No, of course not. I mean, if they were, there couldn’t be “Spotted Dick” in England which would just be a shame. But…

    Well, I think what I object to is the fact that the selling point of foods becomes what they DON’T have, not what they DO have. I really think that’s it. It’s like… oh, this is my especial pet peeve… those specially packaged 100 calorie chocolate bars, which cost almost as much as a regular, 300 calorie chocolate bar, and, if you look at the packaging, there is less color and more writing, making the whole thing look more scientific and less… chocolate-bar-like. Because that is now a selling point. Not to mention those “0” yoghurts. I think there’s one that’s even called “Zero”. It has 0% of practically everything. And it’s meant to be our “source”.

    My friend, whom I was thinking this through with, objected. She said that the chocolate bar/yoghurt phenomenon is bullshit marketing of products to women, marketing scarcity and eating disorder-y thinking. But that the gluten-free cookie is nothing like that – on the contrary, it’s helpful information, because many people can’t tolerate gluten.

    I asked “HOW many?” The answer, apparently, is “MANY”. Definitely enough to warrant a new class of food.

    I don’t know. I’m still deeply ambivalent about all of this, mostly about my own.. well, intolerant reaction to being offered the gluten-free cookie, and I don’t see myself as an intolerant person. I think it really does relate to what I was saying before, and what you said, too… about the … assumption that one holy grail diet is the salvation for everyone, and therefore it becomes a selling point… and it becomes normalized… and it becomes… something that the hypothetical cafe patron would feel good about consuming. A good-for-you cookie!

    But, of course, for people who really can’t or shouldn’t have gluten, I’m glad there’s an option available. I truly am. It’s just the generalization of that into a selling point to the general public that seems questionable because of the message it sends. Does that make sense? But then, am I saying that.. well, that special dietary options should be somehow segregated or hidden? No, I don’t think I’m saying that.

    Confused now.

    • Posted January 12, 2010 at 1:51 am | Permalink

      I totally lol’d my way through your entire comment. Thank you!

      And yes, I have similar pet-peeve with those Zero yogurts and whatnot. Being the crazy militant feminazi I am, it bothers me because it seems to imply that women shouldn’t eat, and if they MUST eat (how pesky), then they should go to every effort to make sure it is as little, as FEMININE a food as possible. Which means, it should say ZERO on the package or something. (Which I associate with size zero…and I can’t be the only one.)

      The interesting thing about gluten-free cookies is, well, if someone really needed to avoid gluten, they’d probably ask for the gluten-free cookie. Hell, they probably would have looked at the menu before going to that particular shop, or would have at least inquired if there was anything gluten-free within. So, it’s not that they shouldn’t offer you the gluten-free option, but it is a bit out of the ordinary, and almost makes me wonder if it was more like “We make these special gluten-free cookies because they are the holy grail of all things healthy” rather than “We offer gluten-free cookies so more people can eat and enjoy our stuff!”

      There’s a restaurant near me that specializes in gluten-free food. It says so right on their sign, which is nice, but which has never stopped me from eating there. (Rice flour pancakes are pretty tasty.) But there’s no vibe of gluten-free = exotic healthiness…just, hey, making stuff gluten-free means we can serve more people.

      • Daniel M.
        Posted January 12, 2010 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        think you will like this then
        http://www.xkcd.com/641/

        Unlike what you say i think the prominent display of zero and diet is trying to con people who already are influenced that if they consume them they will lose weight or anything of such sort…
        Nothing to do with sizes, since many of these are aimed at an all sex audience such as (sic) Coke Zero …

  12. Posted January 12, 2010 at 5:47 am | Permalink

    I can’t understand why I would opt to spend more for something that likely tastes worse, and is no better for me. I’m not interested in gluten-free, fat-free, MSG-free, calorie-free, sugar-free. I have no allergies, just dislikes.

    I think diet/nutrition is one of the places where a little bit of knowledge is a bad thing. As you likely know more than most, it’s a huge and complex field, and in so many cases, too much of a good thing turns bad without warning. I was reading some theories on the anti-oxidant/cancer links, maybe free radicals have purpose we don’t understand or haven’t figured out yet. Similar to how a super-clean, germ free environment may not be the greatest thing for your health and immune system.

    I am surprised and dismayed by some of the weight loss commercials for the New Year. Not just gyms, but strange supplements, fake fiber, diet meals that only have 200 calories (what are they made of? – or are they just that tiny?) I don’t know, maybe I’m the nutty one, I eat a bagel with egg/bacon/cheese and about 2 pints of coffee on Saturday mornings before I spend the entire morning at the gym. Very few people will say anything to me about my eating habits anymore, and that’s just fine with me. I tolerate/ignore raised eyebrows comfortably at this point.

    This trend of demonizing food groups and food components is not a good thing, in my opinion, hopefully it won’t really catch on too much more. Most is not scientifically based. As much as Taubes and those who quote “Good Calories Bad Calories” make my eyes glaze over, he does have a point. Why do we all accept fat as the enemy, and where’s the basis for that anyway? But neither am I about to worry about insulin reactions every time I eat a carb, refined or not. And I’m going to keep eating them, refined and not.

    I’ve heard said that stress and smoking are the true killers. I’m 16 hours cold turkey off nicotine (~for about 5th time in the last year), which is why I’m up at 2 am after a 2 hour night’s sleep. Hopefully not it for the night. I think there are other things that are plenty bad for you, such as particulates (especially for those who live near freeways or certain industries), cadmium in toys, endocrine disruptors, some pharmaceuticals, etc., but most food isn’t so scary.

    • Posted January 12, 2010 at 1:39 pm | Permalink

      Good luck quitting — hope it sticks!

  13. Posted January 12, 2010 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m really enjoying this thread. It’s such a breath of fresh air for someone (aka me) who spends too much time in the weight loss blogosphere. Should I go cold turkey and stop reading these blogs? Am I able? Arg.

    • Carolyn
      Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:18 am | Permalink

      Go for it Wendy! You’ll never know until you try :) There are several blogs that I quit “cold turkey” because they sucked me in – in an unhealthy way. Most of them I found that after a few days I didn’t really miss them. There are a couple that “haunt” me a little, because I miss the drama, but I find my life so much better without them.

      Good Luck to you!!

  14. Michellers
    Posted January 12, 2010 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    I was a self-help book junkie–I read them all, at least up until about 5 years ago. Something about that “one solution fits all” mentality really appealed to me, I started each book with such hope and of course was disappointed each time when I tried to implement the strategy/diet/plan and found them to be more arduous and/or more silly than advertised. Eventually the perky nothingness of the content wore me out and I gave them up.

    However, last summer I soldiered through Gary Taubes’ Good Calories Bad Calories and the (pseudo?)scientific babble really grabbed me. Something that difficult to read had to be true, right? Several weeks later on a no-carb food plan my husband and I both felt crappy and smelled cigarette smoke all the time. Oh, so the low/no-carb plan doesn’t work for everyone? Thus my journey toward fat acceptance began.

    When I checked out a recommendation on one of the fat acceptance blogs for a book by Ellyn Satter called Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family–thinking that it would be a book on how to squeeze good meals for my family into my crazy life–I was surprised to find that it is a classic self-help book, full of one-size-fits-all recommendations. It is also full of fat acceptance talk, which is great. But I am uneasy about the implications that if I don’t do things a certain way (i.e. the way that is described in the book) my child will end up screwed up about food.

    I do happen to believe that a daily family meal, sitting around the table and talking to one another, is a good thing but what if we want to mix it up a little? Maybe go for a bike ride and eat a sandwich on the way–is that seriously less quality time?

    I’m sure you have run across the Satter oeuvre and I would love to get your thoughts.

    • Posted January 12, 2010 at 5:54 pm | Permalink

      Yes, actually, I’m a big fan of Ellyn Satter’s work (as I mention it here constantly), and I often recommend people read the book you mentioned. But you are right about one-size-fits-all approaches not being very realistic — whether it comes from a sheister or someone with good credentials.

  15. NicNac
    Posted January 13, 2010 at 3:18 am | Permalink

    HAH! I can totally identify with this topic. I was diagnosed with Mixed-Connective Tissue Disorder eight years ago. For probably the first three years I got constant advice from others on what I should be doing/eating to get better. Oddly enough, none of these suggestions came from any of my doctors.

    I was told to stop eating sugar(not gonna happen) to start taking green algae supplements (which is apparently a miracle food and the only thing I would EVER NEED TO EAT AGAIN to be healthy) to take MSM, stop consuming artificial sweeteners, and TO LET MYSELF GET STUNG BY BEES (what the hell?!), among other things. Every one of these people knew someone who ‘had the same thing’ and were cured forever by their particular remedy. Needless to say that none of them, however well meaning, knew crap about what they were talking about. My rheumatologist said that some of them would be harmful to me and actually exacerbate my condition.

    The thing that has always irritated me about this is not the advice but the insistence of the person offering it. Unless you are living with a chronic disease you really have no idea what it’s like or what’s involved in being able to function from day to day. Much like being fat ( hey! That’s me!), people seem to assume that I could get better if I REALLY wanted to.

    Digression: I think the reason that so many of these diet fads are popular is that people see them as a means of control. We as humans tend to want to find a formula that will take the uncertainty out of any given situation because uncertainty=fear. The diet fad gives you the illusion that you are taking control and gives you a sense of security. Then you walk past the two-for-one cupcake sale and your fad goes out the window, which leads to more fear, which leads to the next fad. It’s self perpetuating. The only way to break it is to give the fads and the magazine articles the finger, throw them away, and do what’s good for you.

    • Posted January 13, 2010 at 8:29 am | Permalink

      Oh man, “helpful” advice for people with some kind of disability or condition is a whole ‘nother blog post for me. I could probably fill a book with all the (well-meaning but sometime bizarre and always unsolicited) advice people have given me.

      And, yes, I totally believe people turn to diet as a means of control, and that’s why it’s sometimes treated as a “magical” cure-all — because it’s what’s available to us (since we can’t just whip off a prescription for ourselves) and because, in our culture at least, we seem to be terrified of aging, disability, or any type of health risk whatsoever.

      Of course I’m not saying people should court death or disease, but I can’t help but think that all the stress of worrying about our comparatively miniscule risks isn’t good for us either.

      • Daniel M.
        Posted January 13, 2010 at 9:54 am | Permalink

        “culture at least, we seem to be terrified of aging, disability, or any type of health risk whatsoever.”

        Well, who is not? It was always that way. It only is that due to overreporting, people get a bad perspective since they cannot usually gauge their daily risks accordingly.

        good example is the swine flu. Yeah it is kind of dangerous and yeah it had healthy vicitims but 25 years ago and before measles had the same few victims here and there and nobody made an excessive fuss beyond taking care not to get it.

        And on the other hand people especially in the US shun vaccinations …

        my favourite quote from a discussion:
        “as for measles; i’d rather have lifelong imunity after having the disease at an
        apropriate age than take the risk of the vaccination

        • Posted January 13, 2010 at 10:06 am | Permalink

          That’s true about the vaccinations, but the reason people avoid them? Perceived risk.

          And while I’m sure most people, to some extent, fear disability and death and whatever other health risks (I mean, that’s basically a survival requirement), it seems like it’s taken to such extremes in North America that people allow it to affect their quality of life and, ironically, the fear itself may even put them at risk. Your mileage may vary, depending on where you’re at.

  16. Gorda
    Posted January 24, 2010 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

    I have to admit that it has taken me some time to understand and really believe that a given therapeutic diet is not The Answer for everyone. Therapeutic diets are considered to be healthy by definition, because they are meant to restore or promote health in the individual to whom they are prescribed. So therapeutic diet = healthy diet. We also know that it is generally a good idea to follow a healthy diet. So healthy diet = good for everyone. I believe this is the origin of the equation where therapeutic diet = healthy diet = good for everyone. This mental process is hard-wired so deeply into our health-and-weight-obsessed collective consciousness that it can be really hard to shake off!

    As a fat woman, I find that people cannot resist the temptation to try to impose their therapeutic diets on me. Maybe they lost a bit of weight because of all the restrictions and think I could only benefit from some weight-loss. Maybe it helped them with their high blood pressure or diabetes, and, since I am fat, they assume I must also be suffering from those ailments. Or bound to develop them in the near future, so why not prevent them now with a therapeutic diet. But the more I think and read about this issue, the better I get at fielding unwanted and intrusive recommendations – so thanks for being a fat nutritionist and for writing about this stuff!

    Now, I have a random (or maybe not so random) question about specific food items which are supposed (and maybe even proven) to be good/bad for a specific health condition.

    For example: a banana a day is supposed to help in lowering high blood pressure. Several of my hypertensive relatives have tried this and had it work for them, so naturally they have been recommending I eat a banana a day. My blood pressure is fine but I am fat, so of course I must start doing something about my blood pressure right now, just in case and what harm can a banana do anyway? Now I am certain that I do not want or need to eat that effing daily banana, but for some reason I find it really hard to come up with cogent arguments against it. What would you say in this case, from a nutritionist’s perspective – that is, apart from “my diet is none of your business”?

    At the other end of the good food/bad food spectrum… pork, ladies and gentlemen! My partner has been told to lay off the bacon because he has high cholesterol levels. Being the fat lady at his side, I have naturally been told to eat less pork too, since pork means high cholesterol and it can only be good for you to eat less of it. I do not even eat meat that often, but I resent the leap of logic that takes us from “this food is bad for this person” to “this food is bad, full stop”. I do not want to answer “I don’t even eat meat that often” and sound defensive or in denial – any ideas about how to defend my the nutritional soundness of my hypothetical bacon-eating?

    • Posted January 24, 2010 at 11:58 pm | Permalink

      The only thing I can say is 1) I have never heard about this magical banana blood pressure cure. But I do know that forcing yourself to eat a banana that you really don’t want to eat on a daily basis is not going to make you like bananas very much. And if you don’t like bananas, you are far less likely to continue eating them long-term. And long-term is really what matters when it comes to nutrition.

      And, 2) as far as cholesterol is concerned, saturated fat is the thing that, when consumed, can increase your blood cholesterol. So, it would seem at first reading that therefore all fatty meats are out. But but but…animal fat is not *exclusively* composed of saturated fats. In fact, lard (a.k.a. pork fat) actually has a higher proportion of monounsaturated (a.k.a. “good”) fat than cottonseed, corn, soybean, and sunflower oils (and about the same amount as peanut oil), as well as more monounsaturated fat than the usual suspects (butter, palm and coconut oils.)

      But the bigger issue is — how much bacon are you really eating overall? If you’re not eating bacon daily, in rather large quantities, then it probably all balances out over time. The stress of either worrying about it or denying yourself something you really enjoy is probably worse for you than the bacon itself, in normal quantities. Again, as I said about the banana issue — it’s the long term that matters.

      • Gorda
        Posted January 25, 2010 at 11:06 am | Permalink

        Thanks for the facts re: fat content in fatty foods, that was very interesting! I was using bananas and pork as examples of oft-recommended/frowned-upon foods, but I guess the answer “my diet is balanced over time and it’s the long term that matters, thank you very much” can be extrapolated to all similar recommendations. Plus, for my dieting friends and relatives, I will add your assertion that “the stress of either worrying about it or denying yourself something you really enjoy is probably worse for you than the bacon (substitute here any “forbidden food”) itself, in normal quantities.” I’ll also mention “a nutritionist told me that” so they don’t chalk it up to my obvious lack of willpower and inability to make permanent lifestyle changes (*eyeroll*).

        • Posted January 25, 2010 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          You’re welcome. But don’t take just my word for it, because who the hell am I?

          You can point them to the position statement of the American Dietetic Association that says it is the total diet that matters, not any particular food.

          I do have some quibbles with their contention that external “portion control” efforts should override internal signals of hunger and satiety, but the overall statement is quite fitting with HAES philosophy, which is to nourish yoruself, be comfortably active, and don’t freak out about the details.

          • Gorda
            Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:54 am | Permalink

            Coming back to the thread to thank you for the “Food isn’t poison” post – it really answered my question about medicinal bananas and poisonous bacon!

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