An average Jane on health and nutrition

Effects of changes in WIC

Interesting article in the New Yorker about the changes made to WIC and their trickle-down (positive) effects.

1)      A dip (albeit a very small one so far) in early childhood obesity, and

2)      A rise in stocking more nutritious foods in stores that previously didn’t have them available. (That is, the foods newly purchasable with WIC checks.)

I frequently talk about how, if you want to eat healthy, we’re fortunate enough to live in a time where you probably can. The less time and money you have, the greater the obstacles, but even if you’re buying from little more than a glorified gas station, there’s frozen vegetables, fruit cups, cheese and yogurt, etc. It sounds lame, but the first step to eating healthy is believing you can. And eating healthy is not an all-or-nothing, where if you don’t have mostly salads, or if you ate an extra cookie, you’ve undone everything. Sometimes, eating healthy is just choosing water instead of soda a few more times a week. Grabbing a snack pack of almonds instead of a snack pack of potato chips.

That said, yes, there are places where your local store has more things with expiration dates 6+ months from now than fresh foods. More white breads and anything resembling the original grains. Not ideal. Not how you’d like to have to do all your food shopping.

But if it’s true that less diverse food environments and tiny grocery corner stores are expanding their fresh and nutritious options to capitalize on WIC dollars, I’m all for it. This article suggests that some of these types of stores have started carrying the more nutritious items as a result for the demand for it, and to be able to make money. I’m heartened to see this working – government assistance of healthy food for those who need it, and stores able to provide that food while still making money as businesses need to do – even if there are still a lot of things to be worked out.

Article here:

– Julia


For me, there’s a lot of things that make up health.

The physical: being able to do daily activities, being hydrated, well-nourished, feeling good physically.

The mental: taking stress in stride, finding ways to be happy, enjoying the little and the big things in life.

Of course, life likes to test that. When I just read a post by Lisa Richardson, about her conscious efforts to slow down, I had a very ‘yes, yes, exactly’ response.

I have likewise been making efforts to slow things down over the last few years. Cooking dinner instead of microwaving dinner. Getting to sleep a little earlier instead of cramming things into the evening that probably get done sloppily when tired anyway. Appreciating little details, like nice breezes on spring days. And, importantly, making time for the physical health that assists with the mental health.

It’s funny, because there are times when I would have thought that taking a break from a hectic schedule to pop into a yoga class, or go for a bike ride would just be delays in meeting deadlines, delays which would make me more stressed. But sometimes clichés become clichés for a reason, and I’ve found that it’s true that taking breaks is a major help. Not just taking breaks in the middle of a specific project. I just mean breaks in my overall day, my overall life. Taking a pause from musts and shoulds for some movement that often clears my head, gets me re-energized, lets me tackle the musts and shoulds with a fresh look.

It’s a constant process, and there are definitely times when a deadline is just too pressing to be ignored. But I’m trying to prevent those times from becoming the default again. Leave them as the exception, rather than the nose-to-the-grindstone rule.

Do you find you’re able to make time to slow down and do something for yourself?

– Julia


Annnnnnd breakfast.

The sunlight, insanely bright this morning, woke me and wouldn’t let me fall back asleep. I took that as a sign to get up and make my salmon leftovers.


And, since it’s early and low humidity, I think I’ll go for a short hike this morning. Nourish the body with good food, keep it fit and running smoothly with good activity.

PS. About the grape tomatoes. I mentioned yesterday that cooking for one sometimes comes with extra ingredients. With some things, it’s just apparently unavoidable. If there’s a stray veggie just stuck off to the side of something, chances are I’m getting it into some meals to use it up before it goes bad. I treat veggies like the jeans of the food world. They go with everything.


I live alone, and sometimes cooking for one is a hassle. Some food items are clearly intended for multiple people, and I can either make it and eat it for days, or wait til friends come over. (I’m looking at you, tacos.)

But, cooking for two and thinking of it as “two meals” instead of “two people” works pretty well for me. So when I saw a beautiful piece of salmon on sale, I bought one, intending to bake up half for dinner, and save the other half for breakfast. The trick to cooking for one with the same ingredients is to think of things to do that make the meals different, so that it doesn’t seem boring and repetitive.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I find that I don’t buy a ton of meat because it’s effort to cook it for myself, and I often just don’t bother. One of the things I do like to buy on sale, though, is Al Fresco Sweet Italian chicken sausage. On sale it’s usually $5 for several links, and I’ve found numerous uses. My favorite it to cook up a couple links at the same time, and then separate them into different dishes. I may add one to a small bowl of pasta with olives, peas, and sauce for a quick pasta dish, or stir fry pieces with some onions and peppers to put in a roll for a sausage grinder. I’ll chop up pieces for an omelette, or use them in breakfast muffins. (Recipe eventually, I promise.)

So with the salmon, I thought, how can I make this into two distinct, separate meals? For starters, I thought baking for dinner.

I picked up some dill, in an unfortunately-large bunch that will see me searching for dill-related recipes for the rest of the week, and knew I had a lemon at home. Throwing it all in some foil:


Bake at 400 degrees for about 20 minutes (making rice in the meantime) and voila. Dinner.


And for tomorrow, I’ll fry up the rest of it, and mix it in with some scrambled eggs, spinach, and cheese over toast.

One food item, two separate and tasty uses. Cooking for one, with a little planning: delicious and healthy.

Do you regularly cook for just yourself? What are your favorite ways to make the most of your meals?

– Julia


Since I made that post about 3 square vs. 5 small meals, which was what, a week or two ago now? I’ve been trying to do fewer but larger meals, as opposed to small ones with snacks interspersed.

For the most part, this hasn’t changed *what* I eat, it has just changed *when I eat it.*
So, if I used to have a bowl of oatmeal for breakfast at 7:30 and then a snack of a banana and a handful of almonds at 10:30, now I have a bowl of oatmeal, a banana, and a handful of almonds at 7:30, and that carries me through to lunch.
Incidentally, there have been a few times where the new larger breakfast didn’t carry me through to lunch; that I was legitimately hungry and I had to supplement with some veggies and hummus, or a granola bar or whatnot. (I’ll come back to that.)

This is interesting in that it makes me wonder if there are regularly days where I’m not eating as much food as my body wants/needs me to, to function optimally. I’ve read a lot about the concepts of eating too little when watching your weight/diet, and SparkPeople users frequently talk about the hesitance they experienced with eating more food than their suggested lose-weight calorie ranges, only to find that eating a little bit more food actually caused them to lose weight.

I don’t know that that’s the case for me, but I imagine I’ll have a chance to see.

But like I said, the fact that my body got hungry is what makes me think that it would function better with more food. I’m very attentive to water and hydration, so I don’t think it’s thirst masquerading. Rather, I suspect that the smaller meals and snacks were doing enough to curb overt feelings of hunger, but not quite reach the optimal satiety between “not hungry” and “too full.” That is, to satisfy the immediate hunger.. but not to give the amount wanted biologically. There is an area in there, a target for how much I should/could eat to feel my best, and while it’s very very easy to tell the high end of it, I wonder if I’m not appropriately accustomed to what the low end of it feels like, and thus not understanding that I was only hitting “barely not hungry” instead of “correct amount of food consumed.” I do think it is a scale. I don’t think there is “hungry” and “full” and that moreover I don’t believe “not hungry” (in terms of not feeling hunger pangs anymore) equates to “adequately nourished.”

It’s bizarre to me that that could be the case, because people throughout modern history up until the last few decades have known more or less how to eat to a right-for-them fullness. But perhaps it’s just symptomatic of an eating culture that has a really confused relationship with dieting, coupled with questionable knowledge of portion sizes, and very little in the way of conditioning to listen for your own fullness levels. So it could just be a matter of me of still learning portion sizes, and being better in tune with the satiety responses. Not stopping with “hunger is gone” but finding the point between that and “ate too much/feeling full.”

I realize I reference In Defense of Food a lot when I talk about eating, but that’s because there are so many relevant things.
In IDoF, Pollan talks about how people in various cultures know when to stop eating. In America, it’s frequently “when the plate is clean/carton is empty” etc. There was one cultural response (French?) that says they eat until 80% full.

Percentages could be a helpful concept here. If “too full” is 100% full, and 0% full is absolutely famished and starving, where does average, everyday hunger fall? And at what percentage does hunger stop feeling like hunger? For wildly unscientific argument’s sake, if we start feeling average everyday hunger if we drop to 25% full, and those feelings stop at 50% full, then there’s 30% range between when the feelings stop, and the (French?) suggestion of 80%.

It’s not a soundproof concept, it’s just to illustrate what I think might be happening, at least for me. I think I was stopping with the amount of food necessary to relieve hunger, but not much more than that. And perhaps there’s something negative to be said for meeting the bare minimum.

Of course, it’s also easy to see where this could be misconstrued. I’m *not* talking about “wanting more food” for taste purposes, for mental purposes just of enjoying it. I’m strictly talking about the body’s desire for food, for what it wants to use it for. I’m also not suggesting that “eat more!” is obviously the solution to health and weight problems. Merely playing with it for my own body, where I am already very conscientious about my own diet and nutrition.

The other interesting thing with my 3-squares experiment is that I get hungry more strongly. When hunger for lunch rolls around, I am *hungry for lunch*.
Previously, it was more like “yeah, I’m getting hungry.” or “I’m a little bit hungry, and it’s lunch time, so I could have lunch, I think.” I don’t have nearly as much “little bit hungry” in the course of my day anymore. I am hungry, or am I satisfiedly not.

I eat more food at one time – and yet, don’t feel “fuller”; another factor to why I think I wasn’t getting in my optimum scale of food intake – and then when I’m hungry it’s for those larger meals. My hunger is stronger, because I haven’t eaten in longer, and would like to have more food to satisfy that.

Again, you can see why this might sound problematic to prevailing nutrition. ‘You’re training your body to need more and more food.’
Well. No. It’s not an ever-increasing amount. With the exception of those ocassional days that I’ve needed the supplemental snack* I’m still eating the same amount of food as before. I’m just shifting when. I’m training my body that a big flood of good stuff they can use is coming, as opposed to dribbling them a little bit of good stuff, then a break, then dribbling them a little more.

* And I rather wonder if those days are related to previous days’ additional activity. I haven’t looked at those correlations yet, but I do keep pretty good track of my activity via SparkPeople in addition to food, so I can pretty easily check for instances. I expect that it will line up, as it has in the past even with the small meals and snacks model. The day OF a 35-mile bike ride didn’t see any appreciable changes in my hunger levels, but the day AFTER would see me ravenous.

At any rate, I feel good with this process, I enjoy my food, and I’m curious to see if and how it translates in terms of weight loss over the next few weeks.

Note: I wrote this post a few weeks ago, it’s just been sitting in draft. But it’s necessary for the next post I’m about to make. —


Not to fly too much in the face for prevailing wisdom… except kinda, because I think prevailing wisdom is excruciatingly problematic…I’m questioning the multiple small meals and snacks thing, for my body.

I say this because of tradeshows. When I’m away for work for 4+ days, I’m usually eating a bit of a larger lunch than I would, certainly a larger dinner since it’s out with people/multiple courses, and a small/similar to normal breakfast. But no snacks, and limited sweets. Usually there just isn’t time for snacks anyway, but I also find I’m not hungry with the small breakfast, and largeish other meals.
Overall, I’m usually eating more food at tradeshows than I do at home with more plannable meal times.
And yet, pretty consistently, I almost always feel just …less aware?.. of my stomach, in terms of water retention/bloating, or whatever, and I almost always lose a pound of so by the time I get back. (Whether that’s water weight or actual who knows, but it’s pretty frequently.) It can’t be discounted, of course, that I’m very busy at tradeshows, and on my feet longer, etc. which probably accounts for being able to eat more food at two meals, but I can’t just be compensating for extra movement if I lose some weight and feel lighter.

I’m trying to look into more information for how the multiple small meals thing came about, but not finding a whole lot of solid logic for it. I could see how it seems to make sense, just thinking about it. Metabolism is the important component for healthy weight and food digestion, so if you’re eating more often, you’re keeping your metabolism going all the time and that’s good, right?

But maybe it’s not, or not for all people, more accurately. Maybe my body needs the small breakfast to get the metabolism going, then works hard with the lunch, takes a little rest, and works hard again with the dinner, as opposed to working half heartedly all day.

Exercise experts are always advising that you get more benefit from a shorter but higher intensity workout than an hour or two of phoning it in. What if that applies to metabolisms? What if 3 larger, more caloric and nutrient-rich meals are the metabolic equivalent of going for a 20 minute run that includes hills as opposed to a 2 hour treadmill walk on low speed?
Neither are the macro levels, exercise is exercise, and needed. Food is food, and needed. But within those broad categories are a host of factors involving quality, quantity, frequency, etc.. and maybe we just have it wrong, those of us that are riding the prevailing thought when it isn’t how our bodies and digestive systems and metabolisms function best. Maybe some of us need to do the metabolic hill-run.

I might play with this a bit.

Pollan and Microbiomes

“One case I thought was absolutely fascinating is this difference in the gut of Japanese people and Americans. There’s a very common bacteria that we all share, that all humans have in their gut, and it’s involved in digesting polysaccharides of complex carbohydrates and plants. And the Japanese version of it has a gene that allows it to break down seaweed that we can’t break down. When you eat seaweed in a Japanese restaurant, you’re not getting the nutritional value from it that a Japanese person is getting. And they actually traced the source of that gene, and it came from the bacteria that hang out on seaweed in the ocean. In other words, the bacteria who first learned how to digest seaweed. Through the eating of enough seaweed, this bacteria that is common in the gut of the Japanese borrowed this bit of genetic information and uses it now to digest seaweed. And so now it’s a permanent part of the genome of that bug.

There’s an example of how the microbiome evolved to take advantage of a change in the environment — i.e., Japanese eating of seaweed — probably because they needed to. And the same thing is true with, say, dealing with a new toxin, detoxifying, and other changes in our environment. It’s kind of evolution on fast forward. That’s probably critical to our ability to adapt to change, and it may become more critical as we face more rapid and radical environmental changes.”

 Fascinating indeed… an entire world of possible understandings of human biology with a door just opening to it. If this is actually true, the notion that two people eating the same exact food may actually get different nutritional benefit from it will be proven. The problem, of course, is that it then becomes much harder to give people the one-size-fits-all nutritional guideline that the government and some nutritionists so desperately want to do, and many Americans so desperately want to know. And yet, we need to get past this idea anyway. We need to accept and understand that our bodies work differently, and that saying otherwise is often in competition with the increasing body of evidence we’re discovering.

And also:

“I would try to create incentives that drive diversification. I still feel that the great evil of American agriculture is monoculture. It really does contribute to so many problems at the level of the field and the pests, but also at the level of the diet. The thing you learn is the importance of diversity in what you eat, and to the extent you would drive diversity [in farm policy] you would also be creating raw materials for cooking rather than raw materials for processed food, which are mostly corn and soy.

I love this term “specialty crop.” That’s what the USDA [U.S. Department of Agriculture] lingo is for anything you grow that you could actually eat — fruits and vegetables. Corn and soy and rice and wheat, these are commodity crops — in the case of rice you do eat it directly, but everything else has to be heavily processed first. Right now, we actually have laws that prohibit farmers receiving subsidies to grow commodity crops from growing specialty crops. They get fined. If you’re growing corn and soy, and you want to put in 20 acres of tomatoes because somebody’s doing some local canning deal in your county and you want to get in on it and diversify, you get fined. I know farmers who have been fined forty or fifty thousand dollars for doing that. That’s unconscionable. We should be encouraging farmers to diversify, for both economic and ecological reasons.”

Have not looked into the fines thing, but if true.. yikes. Wth, America.

These are snippets from interview with Michael Pollan:

I will be doing some further research into these notions and claims over the next few weeks, and as things continue to involve. Fascinating time to be paying attention to nutrition science.

– J