Archive by Author | lifeseedsnutrition

meditation v medication march madness rerun

This is a slight revision of one of my earliest posts.   I present this older one while I am busy meditating this week on matters such as the recent break through news about saturated fats and heart disease; 24/7 automated cupcake dispensaries; and, the myriad of nutritional dilemmas that cross my path daily.  

Once upon a time, I was walking down the hall of the Health Center. Passing a closed exam room, I heard the doctor who was inside with a patient say, “Here’s a meditation for you”.  Ah, meditation. Instantaneously, I felt my spine lengthen, my breath deepen and my third eye got a nice little buzz.

Anne-Marie’s eggs

But wait. Which of the Young Living Essential Oils that I frequently use had I just inhaled? Was it the oil blend Hope or Dreamcatcher? I must have been hoping or dreaming. By the time my foot that was in back had overstepped the other one and placed itself in front on the cold, hard and very clean commercial tile, I realized she hadn’t said meditation. She said medication. Of course, silly of me. Where did I think i was?

I must digress for a moment.  The floors in the Health Center are incredibly shiny.  Everyday, they are cleaned in Zen-like fashion by a woman named Pam.  After dancing with the waxing machine,  she traces every seam with a long stick with a tennis ball attached to the end, and then with tiny little tools she meticulously erases every scuff mark with the hands of a surgeon.  The place glistens.

Perhaps my momentary delusion was fueled by the fact that the night before I had seen this amazing film called, May I Be Frank.  It is the true tale of transformation on the physical, emotional and spiritual planes of an overweight, lonely, ill, middle-aged ex-addict named Frank, living in San Francisco.  His soul yearning unexpectedly leads him into a raw food restaurant named Cafe Gratitude and the story begins. Through the use of whole foods, affirmations, holistic health modalities, and the receiving of love, true and profound healing ensues. In the film, there is a scene where he goes to a massage therapist. The massage unleashes a deep emotional release in Frank that simultaneously relieves his chronic back pain. I noticed that on the table in the massage room was a collection of Young Living Essential Oils that I am sure were used.  I tell you, these oils are powerful.

How many times a day is the word medication used in the Health Center?  I even say it about eleven times – and  I am mainly talking about green beans and sardines. Venturing a guess–seven hundred and nine times. No, I don’t think I am exaggerating. If anything, I am underestimating.  There is a lot of medication going down.  (Just today I saw a statistic that said 70% of Americans are on at least one prescription medication.)

Imagine if we could subliminally say meditation instead of medication this many times. What meditation are you taking? I am going to prescribe you some meditation. What’s that? You are calling for a refill on your meditation? Which one? You can pick it up at the sanctuary–along with your wheat grass. That would simply and certainly alter the medical paradigm.

We would do well to consider our health facilities more so like holy temples with acolytes arriving for sustenance and to promote meditation as a veritable ally in the healing of ills.  Though the practice of integrative medicine is growing in acceptance and availability–my yearning is to see it accessible and as a model of care–particularly in high risk communities. This film is one of many these days that provide witness to inspiration, possibility and even necessity.  Pam’s devotion to her task has prepared the sacred ground.  When the time comes, may we be ready.

In health, Elyn

In honor of the egg–its promise of rebirth, its seasonal symbolic representations and its role as an example of dietary dithering–for the month of April I will gladly accept submissions of MyPlate Eggs of your own inspiration.  Thanks to my multi-talented friend Anne-Marie for her beautiful  Ukranian pysanky eggs.  Please submit in comments or at


Emma’s My Egg


My Plate Haikus

The farmers’ market/Each egg at the dairy stand/A different color.  by Enki

Food made joyfully/As a gift of time and self/Feeds body and soul.  by Anne-Marie

Sid Caesar Salad

It happened again–my finding a nutrition-related story (or it finding me) where I least expected it.  This time it was not “not a laughing matter”–but actually rather amusing.

Always appreciative of those who have made the world a funnier place, the recent passing of the comedian Sid Caesar led Pete and me to look for some footage of this icon of American humor.   I sat nearby as he clicked here and there on his computer.  He immediately started laughing, listening to the “double talk” for which Caesar was particularly famous.   

Soon I was giggling with him.  A few minutes later, he told me to come look at what he just found.  I leaned over as he played a sketch for me from Caesar’s long running TV show, Your Show of Shows, called  Health Food Restaurant .  This piece dates to the early 1950s.   Caesar and Imogene Coca play a married couple out to dinner at a fancy New York City restaurant.  Yet instead of the steak, sausage, snails and hot tamales that Caesar craves, here at the Vitality Health Food Kitchen where Coca has taken him, there is only pala  paka plant blossoms; the Vitamin B1 B2 B3 C D and H Dinner for Two; homogenized bone meal and wheat germ with a side of cructose; and, spaghutti, made from a cabbage extract and a cauliflower derivative.  Caesar of course mocks, whines, pleads and gags his way through the menu as described by the waiter, played by Carl Reiner–who you may recall, I once met. But, impressed by the youthfulness and vitality of the other diners, and in an earnest attempt to appease his wife, he forgoes his personal desires and literally digs in to the dinner salad served with a set of gardening tools for silverware.

Although “health food” and “plant-based” proponents and movements have probably been around since our Paleo beginnings,  there was just something very surprising about seeing this sketch which was made during a period after which we seemed to have left vegetables behind on rural farms and before the Back to Nature movements of the 1970s.  It was a time maybe of boiled potatoes and  blanched green beans at best which also coincided with the peak years for deaths from heart disease.  As this interesting history details, it was also a  time marked by an increase in the use of hydrogenated fats and vegetable oils and the advent of pasteurized milk.

I am not sure we can pinpoint the nadir of the American diet.   Though the 1950′s can be critiqued for its focus on meat and dairy along with the increased use of processed foods, plasticized fats and high smoking rates, things seem to have gotten a whole lot worse since then.  I don’t think we have  hit bottom but there are some signs we are beginning to emerge from the Dark Ages.

Perhaps I am just being a little naive.  Just as we don’t believe that people in the “old days” ever had sex, maybe I can’t imagine the nature of health food consciousness before my own time and the dietary context in which it existed.   Though the use of refined sugar is presented as a modern-day scourge, its grip took hold long ago.  A brief look into biographical information about health and fitness guru Jack LaLanne who was born in 1914–ages ago–interestingly states that he described himself as a sugarholic and junk food addict as a young boy with associated  behavioral problems.   His early education about natural foods changed the course of his life.  Of course, attention to the attainment of physical, emotional and spiritual health has coursed through human history, the admonishment of gluttony is a big theme in the Bible, and there have always been grandmas telling us to eat our vegetables.

Nonetheless, Health Food Restaurant seems quite anachronistic for its day–at least six years before Jack LaLanne’s pioneering fitness show began airing nationally in 1959.  Although it was just a spoof, it  seemed rather prescient addressing  current anti-aging and food toxicity issues.  One of the dishes is mentioned to be good for the ankles.  The edema of the lower extremities is a common symptom of poor heart, kidney or liver function.  Interestingly, Sid Caesar who seriously battled alcohol  addiction and depression eventually became a devoted natural food and fitness adherent to which he credited his healing–and maybe his longevity, being 91 at the time of his passing.

The sketch touched on a few things that I think about.   It reveals the intensity of our food attachments and belief systems and even their influence on relationships.  Though we usually reference money, sex and religion as divisive issues, food and eating habits probably belong somewhere on that list.

Additionally, it looks at the  center of a society’s dietary culture at any given time and how far out is its fringe.  How and why did the standard American diet evolve and deteriorate in such a relatively short period of time compared to other cultures?  What was sacred and what was sacrilege as we shifted from rabbit stew and acorns, to beef and potatoes, to chicken nuggets and french fries?   Nature, economics, politics, biology, capitalism, and science all drove this complicated national trajectory.  For all that was good and bad, it seems that we did not slow down and smell the pala paka blossoms and those that did were either ignored or derided.  It is interesting now to see how the tide is turning as we confront current health and environmental crises.  It is those who were on the fringe who may be forging our new direction.

Mockery is an innate  behavior with evolutionary purposes that makes us defensively joke before we proceed.  Some from the tribe must be brave enough to venture out while the others sit back and have a good laugh at their expense.  Thank God laughter seems to be good for our health.  I am particularly grateful to  those who bless us with their humor because as I look down as I stomp around in the primordial swamp of  our food culture,  I see far too many swollen ankles–enough to break my heart.  RIP Mr. Caesar.

Well, as they say at the Vitality Health Food Kitchen, “Good Health To You and Good Health To Everybody”.

Please drop in for a virtual cup of tea and say hello.

In health,  Elyn

susan's plate

susan’s plate

My Plate Haiku

Hearts are not just

Reserved for romance

Every living thing is in love.   By, Kat

(This post is dedicated to my friend Susan who is heading out to join the Peace Corps.  May her plate and heart be filled with good things.)

inventive incentive

To make bread or give love, to dig in the earth, to feed an animal or cook for a stranger—these activities require no extensive commentary, no lucid theology. All they require is someone willing to bend, reach, chop, stir. Most of these tasks are so full of pleasure that there is no need to complicate things by calling them holy. And yet these are the same activities that change lives, sometimes all at once and sometimes more slowly, the way dripping water changes stone. In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life.

Barbara Brown Taylor ~ (An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith)

On a cloudy and dreary Saturday morning in October, I headed into Albany to catch up with the ever busy Veggie Mobile to see if I could get a glimpse of the Veggie Rx Program in action.  It is not that I had never seen it before—I have.  However, I wanted to observe it with full attention.  It had been almost two years since I began overseeing this fruit and vegetable prescription incentive program that I had helped to create, and as a concerned mom, needed to check in on it and see how it was doing.       

Prescription incentive programs, similar to Veggie Rx, wherein fruits and vegetables are “prescribed” by health care providers to encourage consumption, have begun to emerge in the past few years.  They are being considered as a model of a viable public health intervention for disenfranchised communities.  Until just recently, I administered this program at the Health Center.  

Though each program is designed and funded through different means, this particular one was established to serve a fifty person caseload of patients diagnosed with diabetes and/or hypertension.  Once recruited and enrolled through the medical providers at the Health Center, the participants receive prescription coupons valued at $7 each, to be redeemed weekly on Capital District Community Gardens’ (CDCG) Veggie Mobile.  This physician-based approach  offers powerful messaging regarding healthy eating from an institution that traditionally proffers mainly pharmaceutical solutions and well-meaning but often weak recommendations for health behavior change.

I met up with the Veggie Mobile that day in the city’s Arbor Hill neighborhood.  Parked at the corner of a side street, it was a burst of color in a rather gray landscape.  That brightly painted truck always shows up representing the rainbow, but it is the activity that it fosters that is the pot of gold.

Among the customers were two Veggie Rx participants.  One was a woman whom I had recently enrolled in the program.  There with her two young granddaughters, ‘patient with diabetes’ transformed into ‘loving grandma’ as she solicited the girls’ advice for what to choose that week.   The other was a gentleman whom had been enrolled in the program early on but who had not participated much initially.  I had called him months before to discuss removing him from the program—he asked me not to.  He explained that he had experienced a host of health problems but was feeling better and had really wanted to have this opportunity to improve his diet. Sure enough, there he was, purchasing a sophisticated assortment of produce.  He was like a kid in a candy shop.

After an hour there, the dedicated Veggie Mobile staff women closed up shop to head over to the next scheduled stop.  I hopped in my car and followed them as they got back on and off the highway and made their way over to a low-income housing complex—not too far from the Governor’s Mansion.  Arriving there, I saw about twelve people waiting.   More came along later.  Two  other Veggie Rx participants whom I knew were there  They were surprised to see me and greeted me with smiles and hugs.

This was a busy site, so I assisted with bagging while anchoring myself at a good vantage point.  Shopping on the Veggie Mobile begs some patience—but perhaps not any more than waiting in a fast food drive-thru line.  Here though, there was connection, community and lots of conversation about good food.  Men, women and children were present.  There was squeezing back and forth as people reached to add another sweet potato, banana or onion to their order.  All forms of monetary equivalent “green” — money, SNAP EBT cards, New York State Fresh Connect and Farmer’s Market Coupons along with the cute Veggie Rx coupons were exchanged for the real green—collards, kale, green beans, green peppers and broccoli.

This collaborative Veggie Rx Program was born out of CDCG’s insatiable quest to bring any and all options for healthy food to places and people who have long been deprived; coupled with the imperative that drives my own nutritional work—that healthy food must be provided as medicine to address the scourge of our chronic diseases.  Teaching about healthy eating when the local landscape is devoid of the ingredients necessary to attain it is an exercise in futility.  

Despite having given substantial  thought, time and care  to Veggie Rx, I am still not exactly sure what this and other similar programs are about.  There are a few possibilities.  It could be a token, feel-good, short-term experiment or the template for a new health and food revolution.  As I have researched the findings of other  incentive based programs, I can see that there are still many questions to be answered.  It may be difficult to decide if the program is worth all the effort for the few that it serves.  Can this little grass-roots project put even the tiniest dent in the massive problem it is trying to solve?   Can a few fruits and vegetables a week really affect change?

What I  do know is that I have seen it change the behaviors and well-being of a number of the patients I managed in the program.  Let me strengthen that.  I have witnessed some profound changes in individuals due to this program.  There has been some powerful “medicine” going down.  Some participants have started juicing or making smoothies, and some have taken to more plant-based diets.  Many have noticeably become more enlivened.  I have also seen improvements in individuals’ health markers–though to see those markers shift in a significant way for this highly  challenged population will take time.  I caution not to base the success of these types of programs solely on those indicators–it is too myopic a lens.

The Veggie Rx Program offers more than just food and is about something greater than the consumption of produce.  Relationship building, the true foundation of this program, is what distinguishes it from others that mainly enhance food access.  This power of relationship–that between the participants and the Health Center and Veggie Mobile staff is not to be underestimated.   Having personally undertaken an evaluation of some aspects of this program and through my direct contact with the participants, I know that they feel better valued as both patients and customers which increases their engagement in both roles.  And, that they consider this program to be a blessing in their lives.

My visit to the Veggie Mobile on that fall morning highlighted some particular aspects of the program that I had not fully appreciated.  Assuming patients’ engagement in these types of programs is not a given.  Enrollment comes with some requirements which asks something deeper of its recipients.  The coupons are not purely a handout.  Not everyone enrolled takes advantage of the program, but the majority do–and some quite extensively.

Witnessing the participants actually shopping on the Veggie Mobile provided evidence that the mere act of showing up and filling one’s bag with beautiful produce reflects a powerful commitment to one’s health.  It also sheds light on what a new paradigm of  health care could look like–particularly in response to the problems associated with health disparities–but in the larger context as well.  I returned home with a reassurance that my little toddler-aged program was behaving appropriately.

As always, greetings, thoughts, and inspiration welcomed.

In health, Elyn

Related Articles:

Food Trust/Policy Link:  Access to Healthy Food and Why it Matters

Double Value Coupon Program–Diet and Shopping Behavior Study

Building Healthy Communities Through Equitable Food Access

my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.  By Gordon

dominique et moi

November was Diabetes Awareness month.  Or, so I am told.   For me, every month is diabetes month and every day is diabetes day, as nary an hour goes by without my sharing sacred space with someone who has diabetes.  Sometimes this is the shell-shocked newly diagnosed, other times, it is the weary veteran of the disease.

So, a few weeks ago when my dear friend and favorite diabetes educator Marie handed me a flyer of some local events in my community, sponsored by one of the national diabetes organizations, I agreed to distribute copies to my patients.  I did not notice its calendar based significance but I did catch sight of something else instead.  Tucked among the listings for some talks at a nearby hotel on various dietary topics, like Healthy Eating for the Holidays by some local nutrition educators–was mention of a presentation to be made by Dominique Wilkins–the former NBA All-Star.  My inner basketball jones, relatively well tuned from my life with Pete and Morgan perked up.   photo (2)

Dominique Wilkins–who was just so you know, born in France–was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes in 2000, just shortly after retiring from his long career.  He is  now a committed ambassador for the cause, passionate about helping others.  While I doubted if many of my patients would travel across town for the other events, I thought some of them might be excited by the prospect of seeing the Human Highlight Film to make the effort.  I told Marie to get the date posted on our electronic message board.

A few days later Marie called me into her office and said, look at this. Our CEO was informing her that the basketball legend’s PR folk had offered us a drop-in appearance at the Health Center and was wondering if we could garner interest with only a few days notice.  Go for it, I exclaimed giddily, anxious for the opportunity to present some celebrity inspiration at our humble clinic.  I quickly found a few other employees who shared my excitement and called a few of my “guys”, apologizing for making any assumptions about race, gender, age and sports interest.  When a 13-year-old patient of mine who I mentioned it to seemed quite aware of Mr. Wilkins’ basketball legacy and  excitedly understood the significance of such a visit, I maintained my enthusiasm.

At the appointed day and time, wearing sensible high heels to enhance my own short stature, I walked through the doors to the waiting room and there was Dominique Wilkins–graceful and stunning.  I went right up to him, looked way up, introduced myself and shook his hand.  We were now on a first name basis.  I told him my husband taught me to enjoy the game of basketball by watching him play.  I appreciate sport for its expression of the human body and its choreography, and Dominique certainly embodied both.  He seemed touched.

The crowd in the waiting room was small but attentive.  Some were there to see him.  Others were just innocently waiting for their medical appointments.  Dominique addressed his mixed audience.  Basically, his impromptu message was that diabetes is a serious but manageable disease.  Do what you have to do to deal with it.  He matter-of-factly listed the basic dictates:  do some physical activity that you enjoy for at least thirty minutes on most days, give up the sweets, stop drinking juice and soda and follow your doctor’s advice.

Apparently, as he was talking his talk, a woman sitting behind me was reacting with noticeable disbelief.   He challenged her discomfort and questioned her on what she was thinking. She essentially said she thought he was talking crazy stuff.   These simple declarations which are easy to espouse, are unfathomable and overwhelming to many.  She didn’t seem to care who this man was.  He may as well have told her to go cut off her toe.

Diabetes is crazy making.  No other health condition asks so much of so many. The multiple actions required for ‘self-management’ may seem  as extreme as self-mutilation.  Once the blood is commandeered by an excessive army of sugar molecules, it demands some pretty strong sacrifice and extreme behavioral changes in a bargain to help assure that you get to keep all your digits.  It pulls the rug right out from under you when you thought you were just minding your own business.  Minions are condemned for starting the day with that big bright sunny glass of OJ and satisfying thirst with one of those ubiquitous caramel colored elixirs–while watching their shows.  No one said anything about diabetes and how it damages the heart along with the kidneys, nerves, eyes and brain, did they?  As Dominique gently goaded the woman to challenge her resistance, I saw in her face the communal shock of the masses, the same shock that had evidently once brought this Adonis of a man to his own knees when he received his diabetes diagnosis.

I then raised my hand to ask a question.  I was interested to know his thoughts about celebrities–and celebrity athletes in particular–who endorse products known to be detrimental to health.  I did mention a player’s name and I did mention a beverage product.   His defense was a little weak as he responded with “Who wouldn’t do that for a million dollars?”  I don’t know–millionaires, people who know their messages matter, someone who might spend a day with me in my office seeing the onslaught of diabetes–its victims increasingly both younger and more significantly laden with this burden of glucose metabolism gone awry?  He rebounded by saying that many athletes give a lot of their time and money to supporting important causes.  Yes, this is true, but nonetheless, there it was, the constant contradiction.

Yes, the contradiction that favors and forgives corporate irresponsibility while individual and societal health is decimated in its wake.  Another example of the kind that leaves our government and the rest of us pathetically pawing the ground trying to find and fund ways to clean up the mess.   Per year, the company that makes the product I referred to, spends something like 1.7 billion dollars–could that be right–on advertising just its beverages; and the athlete will earn about $60 million.  May I add that the companies that market diabetes drugs are also raking in some big bucks.  Meanwhile, my patients and many like them sit among the rubble of a broken health care and food system often without two good glucometer strips to rub together.

Dominique’s response did not diminish my admiration for his work or for his play .  He is doing something valuable in bringing his efforts to this matter.  He showed up and talked to my patients.  They and I appreciated it.  Still, I sighed deeply.  Diabetes can be a grim disease–especially for those without some modicum of financial resources, intelligence and fortitude–and access to good quality food and medicine defined in its truest sense.

Interestingly, Dominique, well endowed with more than a modicum of these necessary ingredients, shared that the most challenging part for him to do in order to address his own diagnosis was exercising.  After 18 years as an elite athlete in top physical form, peeling his body back off the couch and wrangling it back into servitude, was the last thing he wanted to do.

Well, here’s to all the things I would do in service to the public health if I had just a few of those millions of dollars.  What do you think?  What would you do?  Let me know.

In health, Elyn

Check out this infographic from this company American Recall Center which is committed to providing important consumer health information particularly related to prescription drugs and medical devices.

Rose's Plate

Rose’s Plate

My Plate Haiku

Food is medicine

Farmers are doctors, Cooks priests

Eat, pray, eat, pray, love.  by Gordon

post halloween post

Well, I have made it through another scary Halloween.  As I once described in The Nightmare Before Halloween, that is a holiday that certainly sends shivers down this nutritionist’s spine.  All in all, things went well despite not having a pumpkin.  Well, yes, I did wait to nearly the last minute, but still it was surprising that there did not seem to be a pumpkin to be had.  The nice lady at one pumpkin place told me it was a bad year for pumpkins.  That might explain it.  So, I got a hubbard squash instead for my homey display.  They are actually more frightening looking than pumpkins anyway–so I may be on to a new trend.  It may fill in as my Thanksgiving vegetarian turkey as well–and with good reason besides just kind of looking a little like a turkey.  Check out the wonderful benefits of this curious curcubita as nicely compiled by “The World’s Healthiest Foods”.

One must remember that thrilling the kiddies is big  in my Halloween obsessed village.  So, with my hubbard squash and my new decoration this year which was a strand of felted witches hats that I looped above my front door, I was prepared to keep up with the Joneses.  (You MUST click on the caption link and see this youtube video.  These are my incredible next door neighbors.)

Oh yeah, and then there was that perpetual pesky candy problem.   I teased my always healthy, still naive young mother friend that this year we were doing Trick or Kale.  She approved.  But, while she baked up some nice little low-sugar treat squares and packaged them individually, warning kids that her offerings were not going to induce a diabetic coma, I was reduced again to the dissemination of some chocolate.  Trying to minimize the collective damage, my designated door answerers were strongly instructed in “No Picksies!”  This meant no one gets to just put their hand in the cauldron and take what they want.  I reminded my daughter who came home for the evening, “They just get one kiss.”

But, along with that little morsel, all the goblins, ninjas, princesses, jellyfish (yeah, that was a really creative costume) also got a cool Eat Your Fruits and Vegetable themed sticker.  Yes, really.  And, really, they were a big hit–all except for one four-year old who while walking away turned around and offered back his sticker.  Not a bad rate of return given the scads of revelers of various ages ringing the bell.  Two kids came to the door dressed in big cardboard boxes portraying Fruit Drink cartons.  The nutritional information was all nicely handwritten along their sides.  “OOOH! Scary!”, I commented, noticing the High Fructose Corn Syrup listed and gave them extra stickers.

But, as all things must eventually do, the hyper chaotic night came to an end.  In the morning, the sun rose again, candy became scarce and all the children and adults were once more deprived.  No, that’s not true.  In the morning, the sun rose again, and it was Pete’s birthday, and then when it rose two more times it was my blog’s birthday!

Yes, my blog is now three years old.  When it turned one, I celebrated in Dear You, The Readers that my little baby blog had become a bloggler–that is a toddler in blog terminology.  And, now, it is a three-year old bloggler.  Yikes, soon it will be a pre-scbloogler. It is now old enough to take on its contemporary, Honest Toddler with whom there are some bones to pick–such vulgar terminology.  Honest Toddler, that precocious child who has hijacked its mother’s computer,  still has a lot to learn about nutrition.  While it boasted about its advanced candy procuring skills on Halloween and advocated saying Twick or Tweet instead of pronouncing the Rs as a strategy to increase ones loot, it did quietly admit that it got scared and did a small pee pee.  While it asserts in its Twitter profile “Not Potty Trained.  Not  Trying.” my little bloggler is fully responsible for what it puts out and is light years ahead of it in regard to culinary sophistication.

For example, HT publicly whined that “Arugula tastes like soap and fire had a baby”.  Clearly, it does not know that this lovely oak leaf-shaped green is related to the Cruciferous Family.  It is chock full of sulforaphanes, glucosinolates and chlorophyll with many benefits to live for.  HT might want to start thinking about things like the prevention of macular degeneration and cancer.  Also, may candy-seeking, trans-fat cracker munching HT be reminded that its adorable little baby fat, may not suit it so well in the future.  My bloggler kindly suggests it start with baby arugula and recommends these versatile uses.

But, while there may be some definite differences between these two,they do have one toddler bearing trait in common–they LOVE attention.  It was touching when HT had to wonder if when someone goes from cutting your grapes into fourths to cutting them in halves, do they trust you more or love you less?

So, if you can, send some blog love in a blog-like way.  It takes a village to raise a blog.

My bloggler says, “Tank wu.”

Oh, and big news. I did recently get named as a Community Partner by the Feel Better Community all the way down under in Australia.  Please check out that website which is rich with many wonderful resources provided by committed individuals.

In health, Elyn

Awaiting the next dietary kerfuffle–Thanksgivukkuh.

Manon & Michael’s My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Spread peanut butter

On whole grain sweet dark bread

Raspberry jam-yum.  by Barb


set the twilight reeling

Lou Reed died on Sunday.  This was strange to me because my relationship with him had only begun on Saturday night.  I am a little embarrassed that I was not fully informed about the music of this artist.  Of course I knew some of his songs and was aware of the Velvet Underground and their being part of the Andy Warhol scene, but I think I was just a little too young and a lot too unhip to have accessed more of his music in its time.  When I was just a little older and a touch more hip, I did become a fan of Laurie Anderson‘s work, and got it when she and Lou Reed later became an item.

Being attached to the elements of time, sound and place that Lou Reed inhabited, I would have responded with some curiosity and sadness upon hearing of his passing.  But, having been in his presence just the night before, made the news resonate through my being.

English: Lou Reed performing Berlin at the Glo...

English: Lou Reed performing Berlin at the Globe Annex in Stockholm July 9 2008  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What had happened was that on Saturday night, Pete and I found ourselves still adjusting to being parents without boarders.  This is what my daughter called us when she moved out recently to start college, leaving us with no kids living in the house.  Simultaneous with that event,  by means of some cable wire, our computer has become magically capable of projecting things onto our television set–thus widely expanding the viewing opportunities at our disposal.   So, giddy with this new means of entertainment against the backdrop of a quiet house, Pete turned me onto a show called Spectacle, where Elvis Costello interviews an array of musical guests.  Though this was big news to me, the episodes were recorded between 2008 and 2010.  The show is a combination of  story telling and casual performance which I love.

Comfortably curled up for a night of relaxation, we started with Elvis Costello’s  interview with Elton John.   Right away my rock and roll pulse began to quicken.  Next, we chose the one with Lou Reed.  With Costello’s thoughtful and serious questions and Reed’s droll but meaningful answers, the segment just began to unfold like a walk through a park. Reed was iconic but also gracious and familiar seeming.   He  discussed lyrics, the influence of the Beat poets, songs as stories and the effectiveness of minimal chords.  Then, the artist Julian Schnabel joined them on stage.  A very close friend of Reed, he told a touching story about loss that brought out the richness of their relationship.  He recited Reed’s Rock Minuet as if he were Hamlet.   Costello and Reed performed a perfect duet of A  Perfect Day and they ended the segment with Set the Twilight Reeling.  The combination of the scorching guitars and contrasting vocals was beautiful.   I turned to Pete and said that I felt that I had just had a spiritual experience.

So, when on Sunday, as I was home working on some frustrating and soul-constraining activities and then saw the news that Lou Reed had died, I was strangely affected.  How could that be?  I just saw him the night before.  He seemed ok–his heart was full and he treated us to some of Sweet Jane.  I texted Pete–who was at a conference–the news.  He wrote back agreeing that was very weird.  Throughout the rest of the day, in between tending to my mundane tasks,  I gobbled up the various contents of the musician’s cholesterol-rich oeuvre by reading articles and listening to his music.  When Pete returned, he played me some more.  I felt kind of empty.  I regretted the loss to the world of a sensitive artist.

My own work can frequently feel quite vapid to me–I am reactive to when there is too much science, too much medicine, too much judgement, and too little soul.   The lyrics of my day are littered with mean or inflamed words like hypertension, arthritis, hypertriglyceridemia, gout, GERD, diabetes, obesity and diabesity.  Diabesity–actually sounds like it could be the name of a Lou Reed song.  While Lou Reed’s lyrics can be ugly, angry and crass sometimes too, they are also tender and romantic.

I am always longing for the lyrical and the poetic–and am grateful for artists and their art.   For the lives and stories that I am privy to, I imagine something I call  Diapoetry–where the impersonal becomes personal, where healing becomes love.  This is any artistic or humanistic expression of matters related to health and the conditions that support or hinder it.   It has applications wider than its name.  There are beautiful renditions of illness and loss; there are healing practitioners whose science is art, there is life-giving  food prepared with love and there are acts of service.   It can be pretty or not–but it touches emotions and represents our fuller selves.  Diapoetry can be represented in many ways.  My observation is just that the collective psyche is weary of the bombastic and literal when it comes to our bodies.

So, it was additionally strange, when on the following night, Pete said, “El, read this“.   He handed me a New York Times’ article about Lou Reed having had diabetes.  Apparently, as he struggled with what to eat in response to it,  the restaurateurs and chefs he knew in New York began to create special menus for him and helped him to become interested in food for health.  I was shocked.  Here I am following the life and times of this legendary artist who was known for his often alienating and transgressive behaviors–and he ends up with the same humbling condition that brings many to their knees, praying for culinary and nutritional redemption.  Suddenly, Lou Reed who traveled in realms quite foreign to me,  landed in a place I know a little something about.

The article concluded with a quote from Reika Alexander, the owner of one of the restaurants who nourished him.  She said, recalling a strong final hug, “Even a couple of weeks ago he told me that he loved eating our food because it made him feel really healthy. He was really sweet. I really miss him. I was hoping I could see him again.”

That story, that food, that hug and Lou Reed himself–I think that is diapoetry.  It may be a fitting ending for this man who obviously fed the collective psyche.

Then there is Diabscentity.

Anyway, send word, love and any expressions of Diapoetry you may wish to share.

In health, Elyn

Happy Birthday to my dear husband Peter, who brings a lot of  music to my life.    Really– jazz, classical, post rock, electronic, some really weird stuff–and always rock and roll.  This video is for you, Peter.  (and everyone else, too)


my plate

my plate

My Plate Haiku

As the twilight sunburst gleams
as the chromium moon it sets
As I lose all my regrets
and set the twilight reeling
I accept the new found man
and set the twilight reeling.

by Lou

the new food revolution, food stamp cuts and health disparities

My Dilemma cuddled up next to me in bed and rested its head on my shoulder.  “What is coconut palm sugar?”, it asked.   I explained tenderly while rubbing its dear little head, that it is a natural product made from the nectar of the coconut palm tree. There are several different varieties of palm, and “coconut palm” specifically refers to the coco nucifera plant.  It possesses a low glycemic index making it a healthier choice than sugar refined from sugar cane or beet sugar and an option for diabetics.  My Dilemma looked at me with the pure innocent eyes of a child.

English: Coconut Palm tree on the beach in Nus...

English: Coconut Palm tree on the beach in Nusa Dua Bali Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“And what about goat’s milk kefir?”,  it then asked.  I answered, “Oh, you know.  Kefir is a fermented milk product that originated centuries ago in the Caucasus mountains,  made from the milk of any ruminant animal–in this case, goat.  The various types of beneficial microbiota contained in kefir make it one of the most potent probiotic foods available.”

I thought it might be drifting off to sleep, but then it muttered, “Can you tell me the story about chia and hemp seeds,  lukuma, stevia and mesquite sweeteners, oh and kombucha and cacao nibs?”.  Try saying kombucha and cacao nibs five times fast.  Wait a minute.  Looking its way, I noticed a little smirk on its face.

I realized then it must have been looking through some of my papers that I have lying around among all of my resources.   It was getting late and I was not in the mood to be playing games–even the one apparently called, describe the recently sourced foods deemed essential to a really healthy diet and that are alternatives to the substances compromising our health.  Really, it is getting hard to keep up with these emerging products.  I could have been annoyed but instead just planted a kiss on its little cheek.  Besides, my Dilemma is always incredibly patient with me as I stagger about waving my sword attempting to slay the conundrums of our modern world’s feeding debacle.   It is essentially the Sancho Panza to my Don Quixote–forever loyal.

I plumped the pillow, pulled up the covers and made sure it was quite comfy.  It puffed a little sigh, the kind that signals the final controlled exhale of the day, but then it managed one last exertion.  “Do you tell your patients at the health center to eat these foods?”  I remained still and didn’t say anything.  I knew if I ignored it, sleep would blanket its cares and it would choose dreams over reality drenched answers.

I was glad to lay the matter to rest and tucked myself in for the night.  But still, I knew my innocent-seeming Dilemma was playing me.  It knows that everyday as I walk into my office, I pray that I may not alienate my clients by making totally unrealistic suggestions, and that I am grateful as I leave that there is still air in my tires.  It is quite aware that I oft apologize when I utter things like, extra virgin olive oil, stevia, quinoa, almonds, and organic milk.  It knows I choke and can hardly ever say grass-fed, locally raised beef and heirloom tomatoes, and that I break out in hives when considering presenting the advantages of a gluten-free diet for certain individuals.

My economic assessments must be made fast and furiously and I cannot instantaneously calculate what a person’s monthly social security income, low wage earnings and varying food stamp dollar allotment translates into in terms of a daily food budget for themselves and their family.  Many of my clients depend on the graces of food pantries–especially at the end of the month; some live in shelters or at rehabilitation centers with absolutely no control of their food choices.  If quizzed, I would say the majority of my patients know the price, more or less, of white rice, corn or vegetable oil, hamburger meat, chicken and twelve-packs of soda–and messing with their math by offering well-meaning alternatives does not make for good calculus.  Though food budgeting education is valuable, most whom I work with are already experts in that regard.  I can’t surmise how much wiggle room someone has in order to make their diet more of a priority, but I must venture in and gather and glean some sense in order to gauge what is possible.  At the end of the day, I can only hope that I was close, if there is to be any hope of meaningfully promoting diet for health.

A shelf in my office contains food boxes and wrappers, non-perishable examples of “consider this” and “please, whatever you do, try to avoid this” foods.  The shelf is not big enough.  My patients are kind as they pick up from the floor the items that have fallen as I search for something from my display to show them.    For those with grass-fed dreams but ground beef budgets I have a few things to suggest, though I lament that it is nary enough.   These include:  beans, oats, sardines, milk substitutes, flax seeds, teas, lemon juice, spices, dried apples, low-sodium chicken broth, canned salmon, whole grain pasta, boxed tomato sauce, sunflower seeds and apple cider vinegar.  When I can, I offer little samples.  On some days I have coupons for the farmer’s markets, the local food coop and manufacturer’s products to share-and I do have a small group of patients tucked under my wing participating in a program that provides free fruits and vegetables on a weekly basis.

Almost everyone is thoughtful, attentive and appreciative and willing to try to do something.   Hardly anyone looks at me and yells, “Are you kidding me?” as I proffer a baggie of cinnamon.  Still, I need a lot more to ameliorate the consequences of the nutritional junk yard that litters the land and to which those living in poverty are most vulnerable.  With sugar at 62 cents a pound and coconut palm sugar going for about $5 for that same amount, what I could really use is a more level playing field if I am going to accomplish my goal of minimizing health disparities.

In the morning, I found my Dilemma curled up on the couch with a cup of coconut palm sugar sweetened  teeccino caffeine-free herbal coffee alternative and the newspaper.  “Good morning”, it greeted me.  “Just reading about the cuts to the food stamp program.”  “Have a good day!”, it shouted after me, as I ran out the door to work.

If you have any suggestions or would like to hear what I think my patients could really benefit from, drop me a line.

Remember, you can follow my blog by simply subscribing here.   My Plate haikus and photos always welcome.

In health, Elyn

Important Postscript:  Please take a moment to watch this beautiful video, Place Matters, by Clint Smith

erin's plate

erin’s plate

My Plate Haiku

Hunger tiptoes in

From bellies, hearts or minds

Feed me now she calls.

By Eva

summer’s end

Before summer goes leaping into fall, as it can tend to do in these parts, I want to offer homage to it and to those who tend its landscape.

In early June, before the sun had reached its northernmost point in the sky and summer’s arrival in this hemisphere had not quite yet been heralded, I was lamenting in “Obesity, oh wait a minute“, about the “collective abdication” of societal nourishment due to the blurry division between culture and corporation.  This was written in response to my learning about a local community sacrificing its citizenry for some petty reward from Arby’s–the fast food roast beef chain.  The insidious mutiny of our taste buds and natural hungers by corporations who have invested deeply in behavioral psychology, flavor and gene manipulation and marketing in order to usurp our birthright of health, always makes me feel pretty yukky .   

susan fowler's friendship garden

susan fowler’s friendship garden

I quoted Dr. David Katz who asked, “If you know it’s important to control your weight and attend to your health, but almost everything in your environment and your culture conspires against such efforts- how responsible are you, personally?  Are you truly personally irresponsible if you go with the prevailing flow?“   Julie, my dear friend and a wonderful teacher, provided an apt My Plate haiku in response–see below.

When one is swirling about in the prevailing flow, it is hard to either remember or to imagine a different current of possibility.  For context, I remind that my work entails helping those who have not just gone with the flow, but who are drowning in it.   While much about  our modern food situation lurks in shadow, thankfully the enlightening sun continues on its ecliptic journey along the celestial sphere in spite of ourselves.  When it reaches the right ascension: 6 hours; declination: 23.5 degrees on June 21st–the longest day of the year, the light shifts, the air warms, and we are blessed with the advent of summer. This is the season that offers the opportunity to paddle over to the river bank and to rest for a while.

At the solstice, the denizens of summer appear.  Having spent months in preparation for this precious moment, this is when the sowers and reapers take to the fields, playing midwife to the earth’s fertile bounty that the warm sun beckons forth.   One must move slowly and sit quietly to see them.  Like little gnomes, hunched low to the ground or up in the trees, they are busy with their work, often in the early hours of the day. They tend to be weary and shy of the noise and bustle of the big cities and crowded highways.   Sometimes they commune better with their animals than with people.

But, they are gentle and caring folk, and eventually they step through the veil of the misty morning and come forth with their beautiful harvest–raspberries, blueberries, currants, peaches and plums, big bunches of leafy chard, heads of tender bibb lettuce, peas and beans, luscious tomatoes, beets and carrots pulled from the dirt, melons of many varieties, eggs laid from happy chickens, cheeses curdled from the milk of frolicking goats and tiny bundles of fragrant herbs.

As if awakening from a midsummer’s night dream, when we behold these offerings we are a bit uncertain at first about what is real–are we truly enamored of the jackass or are we brought to our senses by being reminded of what is truly beautiful and deeply nourishing?  Can we actually claim this amazing food for ourselves and for our children as well?  May we feel more resolute to decry the fodder that misrepresents itself by masquerading as food?  It is possible.

Summertime provides me with many wonderful examples that creating new paradigms of food and feeding exist.  Two urban, youth focused programs include the Student Produce Project run by my friends at the Capital District Community Gardens; and the magical school-based Friendship Garden fertilized by many years of hard work and the amazing love of another dear friend, Susan Fowler.  Susan is also a wonderful teacher and a whole lot more.  With her corps of elementary students in her heart and at her side tending the crops, she has been an early crusader in the school gardening movement.

CDCG Produce Project

CDCG Produce Project

front side gmo display

front side gmo display

Farmer’s markets also always inspire.  This summer, a day trip led me to the Saugerties Farmer’s Market in the beautiful Hudson Valley.  There, beside the wonderful assemblage of growers, bakers and jelly makers I came upon an educational and artistic display about the health effects of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food.  Afterward, I kept wondering how did science meet such creative expression, so I traced my way to the work of the person responsible, Claudia McNulty. Claudia is a painter, designer, sculptor and seemingly, environmental activist as well.  Her work is beautiful and thought-provoking.  Claudia has provided some links to very important information through her Corn Porn GMO project.  These include the Seralini GMO Rat Study and a video interview with an MIT scientist on the effects of the increased use of the herbicide RoundUp required by GMO crops.  To appreciate our current health crises, it is essential to understand the influence of GMOs.

But, the earth tenders who most personally influenced my own summer, were my friends Justine and Brian Denison, and their crew, the farmers at Denison Farm, providers of my Community Supported Agriculture share, who not only grew, but also delivered weekly, the amazing produce that graced my own table and fed my family.  There is a film, Radical Roots: Reawakening the Local Food Movement, by Patricia Lane, that features their farm.  It was something captured in this story, that really colored my thoughts  and inspired me through these long sunny days.  I hope it may do the same for you.

So, to all of summer’s tenders who work so hard as stewards of the land and take care to feed us all,  I offer deep and profound thanks, and hope that the fall provides some well deserved rest.  And to summer itself, it is always sad to see you go, but thanks for giving respite from our busy year and for illuminating the ways we can re-route the prevailing flow that permits corporate control of our health and environment.

In health, Elyn

As always, likes, shares, comments, subscriptions, haikus, plates and watering of my blog are welcomed with opened arms.

PS.  I am realizing I would be remiss, if I did not mention (my pretend) new friend, Tess Beatrice and her unbelievably conceived and beautifully presented Sow Good Bakery‘s delicious morsels.  I met Tess while at the Saugerties Farmer’s Market where I also got a hula hoop!  All of the offerings are gluten-free, refined sugar-free, sometimes raw confections laced with unusual spices and topped with tender flower petals.  They were truly amazing, gorgeous and quite unique.  Worth checking out to see if she will be your friend too.

Susan's My Plate

Susan M’s Fall My Plate

My Plate Haiku

It is easier                                                                                                                                             

to reprimand the sinner

than change the system.

By, Julie 


This is about confluence–where different streams of my life seem to flow together.  One stream is that I began to nurse my young exactly 25 years ago today, on the day that my first child was born–on my birthday.  That is one of the stories of my life–giving birth to my son on my birthday.  That was pretty cool and only imagined at about 7 pm the evening before, after returning home from seeing the movie, “A Fish Called Wanda”.

Another stream is that it is World Breastfeeding Week.  As a nutritionist concerned with the feeding of the species and maternal and child health issues, I think a lot about breastfeeding and spend time advocating and educating about it in my work.  I like to honor the annually appointed  World Breastfeeding Week that occurs during the first week in August– as does my  birthday.   This year, I am using some of the well-produced materials from the  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health’s It’s Only Natural campaign as part of my activities at the Health Center and am continuing to address it in my writings.

imagejpeg_3 (1)

Today, my birthday and World Breastfeeding Week found my husband Pete and I in Seneca Falls, New York for Empire Farm Days, the largest, agricultural trade show in the Northeast– which for eighty summers has also taken place on this date.   Given the role that food plays in both my personal and professional life,  it was a gift to be in the midst of  the farmers whose business it is to grow and raise the amazing stuff and to be mindful of their concerns.  Food off the farm has a very abstract quality, quite remote from its actual origins.   But, being at this event, one can see that farming matters such as soil health, pest management, plant hardiness, marketing and the raising of animals are quite real.

imagejpeg_2 (9)

It was no surprise for me to find that my alma mater, Cornell University, had a large presence at Empire Farm Days.  Both reside upon the shores of Cayuga Lake, and Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences plays a large role in the state’s agricultural initiatives.   My nutrition studies took place inches from what is referred to as the Ag School.   I walked miles through its vast acreage, bought college-made ice cream at its Dairy Barn,  spent hours studying in its Mann Library, barely survived its microbiology course– and, it was where I met Pete.   That of course contributed to the having of my above mentioned young.

But, then there was this stream too.  At the Cornell exhibit, a video was playing called Birth on the Farm.  It opened by showing bluebird babies hatching from their eggs, and barn swallows being fed by their parents, but then it moved quickly on to mammals.  One after another I watched a sheep, a horse, a dog and a cow give birth, each baby emerging with amniotic sac intact.  Once licked clean by their mama–with a little help from the farmer–these newborns quickly found their way  to nipple or utter and began to feed.  Human babies, like their mammalian cohort,  will find their way to the breast as well, when placed on their mama’s tummies.

Witnessing the wildly innate behavior of the mother/infant nursing dyad in the animal world heightened my wonder about how that behavior has become so disrupted among humans.   I just finished a big research project on breastfeeding.  My research served to scratch my perpetual itch to understand the modern-day hindrances to feeding our infants in the biologically prescribed way that has sustained humanity for millennia.   How has something that a still unseeing and non-hearing puppy can figure out within minutes of birth become something that is culturally perceived as more difficult than rocket science and as contentious as climate change?  How has the concept of species-specific milk become so foreign?

I do know a lot of the answers to these questions, and I do appreciate that there are various circumstances where alternative methods of feeding are necessary or that choice is to be respected.  Even at the farming event I met a thirteen day old baby goat, the runt of its litter, that required supported bottle feeding by its human mama–but, still, it was receiving goat’s milk.  Nonetheless, clinical outcomes and scientific research has led all of the leading health organizations to strongly recommend that human babies in both the non-industrialized and industrialized world exclusively receive human milk for the first six months of life for maximum immunological protection and neurological development.  However, after about seven decades of the promotion of artificial milk substitutes (formula), there is still a collective refrain that formula is as good as breast milk–and that breastfeeding is oft not worth the bother.

The truth is that there are significant health and economic costs associated with not breastfeeding.   There are societal and environmental costs as well.  It is just that the consequences are not as directly obvious as not wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle; or as prevalent and publicized as the risks of cigarette smoking.  Also, many of the challenges ascribed to breastfeeding, and some of the difficulties that individual women encounter, are really attributable to the lack of proper breastfeeding policies and supports on many levels.

Still in the flow of the day’s happenings, I excitedly headed over by myself to the Women’s Rights National Park and Museum and Women’s Hall of Fame.  This was the icing on my cake.  The exhibits were awe inspiring and gave me a really deep appreciation of how arduous the fight for women’s rights was–and is still.  Immersed in this incredible history, I mused over the sometimes expressed contention that breastfeeding further chains women to their domestic duties and inhibits their participation in the workplace and in society where they may wish or need to be.  Walking in the footsteps of these courageous women, I was bolstered in my feeling that this argument misses the point.  It is not breastfeeding, but instead, the lack of mandated maternity leaves, workplace supports and other inequalities in this country that are prohibitive.  The exhibits themselves provided some proof.

For example, I learned that Norway, the country with the highest breastfeeding rates in the world, also leads in regard to the number of women in parliamentary positions,  and that this year, Ina May Gaskin is being inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame.   Ina May, is the modern “mother of authentic midwifery”.   Though midwives had assisted with childbirth since ancient times, their role had been essentially obliterated with the professionalization of male-dominated obstetrics in the early twentieth century.  Her efforts sparked a revolutionary movement which not only opened the way for the re-emergence and popularization of midwifery-guided and women-empowered birth but also contributed to the re-establishment of some breastfeeding practice in this country.  Interestingly, Ina May perfected her motherly arts at a commune community called The Farm, and her grandmother was an avid admirer of Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the suffragettes.

imagejpeg_2 (11)At the end of the afternoon, Pete rejoined me and we went for dinner.  As we  sat at the restaurant overlooking the water where the Cayuga-Seneca Canal comes into Seneca Lake, I thought about how the streams of my day all flowed together– birthday,  college, nutritional work, food and farming, women’s rights, birth and breastfeeding.  These are all pretty big themes in my life.  Considering this confluence, I contemplated its meaning.  Could it be, that if when enough babies are born welcomed and sustained by mother’s touch, natural nipple and warm nutritionally complete milk; when women’s capacity to nurture and nourish is deeply valued and protected; and, when our farmers are supported to grow healthy food and to protect the land–that the world may be a  safer, healthier and softer place?

Please, let me know what you think and do send greetings!

In health, Elyn


My Plate

My Plate

My Plate Haiku

Thanks to our farmer

Blueberries kissed by the sun

So much to enjoy!

by Crystal

I Speak for the Fat People

Although I have taken a little writing hiatus, the nutritional discourse continues unabated.  The stories of our communal incarnate experience resonate with frustration, guilt and misunderstandings.   This is an older piece that I hope offers some response with a bit of healing balm.  Some of its points have been raised and debated among those in the scientific community rather recently.  I have published it in three parts previously.  Here it is mended back together.  Soon, I will return with some new posts.  Thanks for waiting.

I speak for the fat people.  Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax who spoke for the trees, someone must speak for the fat people.   Unlike the trees who needed a spokesperson because they had no tongues, you would think that the fat people would be able to speak for themselves.  Of course fat people have tongues.  If they did not have that taste bud-laden sensory organ, they would not be fat.  Given the current weight of the world, this group should not be particularly hard to hear.  However, in the huge public dialogue about weight and obesity, the fat people are merely statistics.  There are no real people behind the statistics, and this is where they have lost their voice.  Therefore, they are stripped of any ability to speak with authority on the topic.

I am not a statistic.  Though I have had some years where I toed the chubby line, for the most part I have done my part in tipping the scales toward societal svelteness.  Besides my obligation as a citizen to keep the fat numbers down, as a nutritionist it is my professional responsibility to pull people out of the fat pool and to keep them from falling in at all.

It is no big secret that the medical and nutritional community has not done a great job in their role as bariatric (the science of obesity) lifeguards.   I myself do not have a great track record of turning people into mere shadows of their former selves.  But, I have spent my career as a nutritionist hearing the stories and struggles of the fat people and observing the ways of food and eating that define this turn of the century.  I am a spy in the house of girth.

The fat community does in fact have some spokespeople.  There are magazines, journals, books and websites–written mainly by  women–who have spent one day too many in the deprived and depraved world of dieting.  There are individuals who are doing incredible and poetic work about re-informing and re-educating on misconceptions about weight and health and respectful self-care.  Still, many of these efforts are marginalized or featured in venues that only topic-obsessed people like myself pay attention to.  Even Roseanne Barr once said, “It’s OK to be fat.  So you’re fat.  Just be fat and shut up about it.” For every undertaking that sings the praises of body love and acceptance, there are thousands of counter-voices screaming the imperative to whip this fat away.

Therefore, I believe I must use my credentials to speak out.  I hope that the fat people can accept me, a thin person–who is often cold and prone to osteoporosis–and an ex-stress and emotional eater to be their voice.  Born of thin mother and fat father, I will try to do the cause justice.

Let’s begin by putting  the issue of overweight into perspective. If we look at weight historically, I’m pretty certain that from the beginning of time, there have been fat people.  We have all seen the pictures of early Cro-Magnon and Neanderthal men.  Even those quintessential hunters and gatherers seemed capable of packing on a few pounds.  After them came Confucius, King Henry the Eighth, Mamie in Gone with the Wind, Jackie Gleason, Pavarotti, Aunt Bea and my grandmother.  Chances are your grandmother was fat, too.

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadiu...

English: Luciano Pavarotti in Vélodrome Stadium, 15/06/02. Cropped version. Français : Luciano Pavarotti au Stade Vélodrome de Marseille, France, le 15 juin 2002. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Since our early beginnings, human beings have come in varying shapes and sizes and large-size was not necessarily an aberration of medium-size.  It is good that there are large-sized people.  A world without them would mean a world with fewer great opera singers, chefs, women of ample bosom, football players, construction workers and cuddly grandmothers.

It is not very difficult to become fat.  You do not have to go out of your way to try.  If Chinese youth can become fat, then anyone can.  Only about 4% of the population has naturally model-thin bodies.  That means that many models are starving themselves in order to be models.  It also means that the rest of the size 2 wannabes are expending a lot of physical and mental energy in the pursuit of thinness.  Carolyn Knapp, in her book Appetites, tells the story of a woman who describes the angst she feels putting on her stockings every morning.  She wonders what she could have accomplished in her life with the time she has spent worrying about her weight.

There are the naturally skinny–and then there are the neurotically and pathologically skinny; and the metabolically hyper-activated skinny–those who sustain themselves on a steady diet of excessive caffeine and nicotine—or maybe extensive exercise.   For the rest of us, the possibility of becoming overweight is just around the corner.  We are physiologically and neurologically wired to pack it on. The ability to store fat came in pretty handy a time or two during our multi-millenial evolution. We have about 107 compensatory mechanisms that prevent us from starving to death.  A bunch of those certainly kicked in to save our forefathers when they were unable to kill a bison.  In people who attempt to starve themselves toward thinness, the body fights back–it regains the lost weight plus more, and then absolutely refuses to budge.

In addition, we are wired for comfort.  Research shows that the food habits that sustain us are those that we developed while still wrapped in the loving veil of early childhood.  Whether that happened to be gazelle, chicken soup, mashed potatoes or cheeseburgers, you will probably turn to those foods as an adult.  Believe me, the corporate world certainly knows this.  The Happy Meal ensures that today’s toddlers will become tomorrow’s adult fast food consumers.  The concept of comfort foods is one I hear a lot about during my spy missions. Women have confessed to me that they would choose a good loaf of bread over sex.  The quality of the sex is not indicated in this context.

Then of course, there are our natural temperaments as well as good old genetics.  I listened once to a tender story of a woman who was adopted as a child.  She never met her birth mother, but she possessed a very old, poor quality home movie that she believes is of her mother.  Though she struggles to see the face better in search of subtle resemblances, it is the woman’s thighs that confirm her finding.  She states, “Look at the thighs.  Those are my thighs.”

On top of all this, let’s sprinkle on a life change, or just daily, chronic stress.  Take your pick.  Break-ups, abuse, graduate school, poverty, working long hours, care giving, depression or menopause are possible choices.  And, God forbid you should simply possess a deep sensuous life affirming passion for cooking and eating. Throw any of these on your plate and if your primal wiring wasn’t enough to enlist you, then current circumstances will.  Even the once-thins can become the now-fat–especially in this current milieu where food is literally out to get ya.  Not even the high school cheerleader is immune.  Any emotional state that is heightened increases for many,  the desire to seek food for reward.  When one is working their way up the weight chart, it is because they are possessed by physical or emotional hunger, or physiological changes that they can neither understand nor control.

I can hear you begin to protest that it has to be more than just this.  Aren’t we soooo bad?  We ate the piece of chocolate cake (and we loved it).  How could we?  How dare we?  That translates into four hours of floor mopping according to the calorie expenditure charts.  That must be fair penance for the crime.  As a spy, my days are peppered with the monologues and dialogues of self-hate and recrimination that people utter like a mantra before and/or after each foray into eating.  The guilt is palpable.  We must have all been ____________ in a previous lifetime.   (insert your own response.)

I was heartened to hear once, a man describe his joy-spreading tactic.  Essentially, he spends half of his time acquiring special little chocolates and the other half, gifting them to people as morsels of universal love.  I am either becoming a very cynical nutritionist or a very empathic human being.  The collective psyche is longing for the morsel of joy even at the expense of the perfect waistline.  The truth is that we have appetites and hungers because we are merely human, not because we are bad people.  However, when all of these human tendencies accumulate into extra pounds, getting rid of that weight is very difficult.

A few years ago, I attended a conference on an obesity-related topic.  As a group we were to brainstorm how to counsel a postpartum woman with a BMI of 30.   The exercise had me squirming from the get go.  As the attendees were getting rather  dead-ended in their attempts to master this case-study, the presenter, a physician and researcher at a major university said, “Let me offer this idea.  I am often in my office at my desk and on the phone.  I could just sit there and talk on the phone, but instead I stand and pace as I am talking.”  My agitated brain said, “Yes, let’s file that idea to use.”  Not with my clients but in this article.  I could picture Homer Simpson stuffing one more donut in his face while muttering “Ah, vigorous pacing. That’s the ticket.” I wondered when was the last time this guy got out of his office and realized the experiences of real people, real fat people.

Hardly are all defined cases of overweight problematic. Some in the field maintain that the goal is for all individuals to attain an “appropriate” BMI.  Short of that, they will be at risk for various health problems. My intuition and much science beg to differ.  Many people are fine–if not perhaps better off–with a little extra weight on them.  Pavarotti once said, “The reason fat people are happy is that their nerves are well protected.”  My own observations reveal that the neurotically thin tend to be more frayed than their rounder counterparts.   Besides, BMI is just a tool.  At times it is a cruel tool—or at least a not very nice one.  It makes no allowance for age, fitness, or even natural body type.  Whether we like it or not, our bodies will shift and change as we age.  Nature, with no ill intent, seems to want to round us out a bit as we mature. That is how we get to be grandpas and grandmas.  Appropriate BMI does not necessarily confer lack of health risks–only ones of a particular nature.  Last long enough, and we tend to eventually shrink.

Do not get me wrong.  I am not undermining the seriousness of the obesity crisis that we are facing.  I understand its consequences perhaps more than most.  I see the implications of weight that people struggle with on a daily basis and I strive to alleviate the challenges through educational, lifestyle and nutritional support.   I bemoan the forces that are propelling our society into ever-expanding levels of girth, especially those that are now affecting our children.

Still, I feel a need to call TIME OUT!  To stop the madness that makes those who are the statistics speechless.  To stop pointing the finger merely at the individual without an understanding of the deeper forces that are at play.  There are multi-factorial causes that lie at the root of the weight gain epidemic.  Many are so abstract or insidious that it is very difficult even for the experts—let alone an ordinary individual–to understand what is going on.  Though overeating, bad eating, food addiction and poor lifestyle choices are definitely a part of it, the magnitude of the communal weight gain doesn’t seem to make sense based on calories alone.  In the causative mix lie politics, hormones, pharmaceuticals, poverty, nutrition misinformation, dieting, food sensitivities, sensory science, profits, changes in the components of our food, environmental toxins, personal and spiritual alienation and lifestyles spinning out of control.  There are strange bedfellows in each and every fat cell.

Now, back to our friend the Lorax.  For the record, the Lorax, our venerable spokesperson, was rather portly himself.  Based on his picture, I’d put him at a BMI of about 27.  I’d describe him as neither apple nor pear-shaped but rather pickle-shaped.  According to Dr. Seuss, “He was shortish. And oldish. And brownish and mossy.” The final message of the Lorax in his plea to save the environment was UNLESS.   “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better.  It’s not.”

I too, am rather shortish.  Oldish, brownish and mossy may someday also describe me.  For now, my intention is not to imply an ultimatum.  It is, however, to bring a greater sense of compassion and understanding–and a broader lens to the discussion and to the approaches to care.

I do not intend to deny the role of personal responsibility—be that for everyone.  It is a big piece of the puzzle.  Though it is critical that we address the current weight epidemic–we should not do it with an assault on the fat people.  We must not slap everyone silly in an attempt to squeeze them into a size six dress or Speedo swimsuit.  Besides, who would be left to sing the blues? And though I’d have been happy to find my grandmother at the gym, it could not replace the experience of cuddling up on her big, warm lap with wonderful smells wafting in from the kitchen.

In health, Elyn

my plate

My Plate Haiku

Adirondack lake

Soothes us  from the heat–weightless

We float like feathers