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The Woman Who Couldn’t Stop Buying Self-Help Books

(Great Beyond/Flickr via Compfight)

(Great Beyond/Flickr via Compfight)

Jean Fain is a Harvard Medical School-affiliated psychotherapist and the author of “The Self-Compassion Diet.” So why is the author of a self-help book criticizing self-help books? Read on… 

By Jean Fain
Guest contributor

At first, I couldn’t understand why this new psychotherapy client had settled on my couch. Sure, Kaye (not her real name) was unhappy with her weight, and yet, she enjoyed an enviably healthy diet. With the aid of self-help books, she had not only taught herself to cook delicious, nutritious dishes, she’d also learned to meditate and eat mindfully. This unusually self-motivated working mother of two not only read each book from cover to cover, she practiced what the most helpful authors preached.

As time went on, I came to understand that as much as self-help books helped Kaye eat more healthfully, they were effectively hindering her happiness. You see, she used self-help books the same way she used food – to stuff her feelings. For good reason. Binge eating and reading brought her enormous comfort, which she desperately needed to deal with a high-stress job and a low-achieving child. Only problem: as Kaye’s self-help library expanded, so did her waistline.

Therapist and author Jean Fain (Courtesy)

Therapist and author Jean Fain (Courtesy)

As we delved into the problem of turning to the dinner plate and the printed page for comfort, the solution became abundantly clear. If she was serious about finding true happiness, she’d have to stop buying self-help books and start asking for a little help from her friends and family.

Yes, I’m a self-help author myself, but since writing “The Self-Compassion Diet,” I’ve learned the limitations of the genre. Self-help outsells every other category because it gives people what they desperately need: hope. Which, on a good day, is enough to jumpstart change. But it’s rarely enough to sustain it. (Mostly, it sustains the publishing industry to the tune of $549 million per year, according to the market research firm Marketdata Enterprises.) So if you’ve been blaming yourself for failing to stick to the latest plan, you can stop. It’s not you, it’s the genre.

 I can’t tell you how many clients gained belly fat and weight trying to stick to the “Wheat Belly” diet.

Which isn’t to say self-help books have no benefit. In fact, self-help has become the world’s best-selling genre because most readers start reaping the benefits even before they crack the books. Of the many benefits, consider the top three:

Quick: The simple act of buying self-help books makes people feel better. Whatever you’re struggling with – losing weight, gaining employment, finding true love, getting a divorce, aging gracefully, dying with dignity – just knowing that simple answers to life’s complex problems are within reach gives book buyers an immediate sense of relief.

Cheap: Time- and money-wise, self-help costs a fraction of the cost of individual counseling. Virtually nothing, if you have access to free downloads or a public library. Continue reading

Project Louise: Learning To Run A Marathon Instead Of A Sprint

No, Louise isn't running an actual marathon -- not yet, anyway. But she is learning to plan for the long haul. (Chris Brown via Wikimedia Commons)

No, Louise isn’t running an actual marathon — not yet, anyway. But she is learning to plan for the long haul. (Chris Brown via Wikimedia Commons)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

I’ve been meeting with Coach Allison every two weeks to review my progress, set new goals and generally figure out how Project Louise is going. When we talked on Friday, she pointed out that my posts here have tended to look back on a given week and discuss what went right … or wrong. All well and good, she said, but what about exploring the process of looking ahead, breaking my big goal (health!) down into smaller intermediate goals and finding ways to keep moving in the right direction?

This was yet another moment when I realized how lucky I am to have support in this project – from Allison, from Trainer Rick, from Dr. “DASH” Moore and of course from the Naughty Moms.

Specifically, Allison’s expertise in strategic planning and project management brings a perspective that I don’t often have. I have spent my adult life working on daily, or at most weekly, deadlines: You have a task, you get it done, you move on to the next deadline. I’m good at it, I know how to do it, and I keep doing it over and over again.hamsterwheel

But a project that will take a whole year to complete? (And, really, if I do it right, it’s a project I’ll be working on for the rest of my life.) Who can plan that far ahead?

Well, it turns out, Allison can. And, thanks to her, I’m beginning to see how I can do it too.
The concept of setting intermediate goals is one of the most helpful for me so far. Those of you who are less challenged in this area may be amused to know that, until Allison pointed it out, I hadn’t realized that my overall weight-loss goal – lose 44 pounds by Dec. 31 – breaks down rather neatly into quarterly goals. Yes, that’s right, lose 11 pounds every three months and I’ll get there. (As a reward for figuring this out, I may buy myself a new T-shirt for the gym. It says: “I’m an English major. You do the math.”)SENGLISH_375_1

Sooo … we decided that I should do a six-month assessment at the end of June, assessing my progress not just in losing weight, but in eating more healthfully, exercising more regularly, taking care of myself spiritually and emotionally and generally living a better life. And before that, at the end of March, we’ll take a look at how I’ve done for the first quarter of the year.

This felt so obvious once she laid it out. But it hadn’t been obvious, at least not to me. And Trainer Rick says that I’m not alone in this.

“People set really unrealistic goals,” he told me in a recent session. Continue reading

The Distrust Diet: Can Suspicion, Anger And Disdain Help Us Lose Weight?

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

America is in, to quote the title of a new book, “A Big Fat Crisis.”

The crisis in question is what the surgeon general nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, this week called the defining public health challenge of our time. So we need more than ever to understand,”The Hidden Forces Behind The Obesity Epidemic — And How We Can End It,” to quote the subtitle of that new book.

Author Deborah Cohen, an MD and senior scientist at the RAND Corporation, makes two powerful points (among others):

• Given human nature — particularly all the ways we’re hard-wired to perceive and eat food — the current food environment (or “food swamp,” as she puts it) pushes most of us willy nilly into extra weight, and we cannot realistically expect most people to have the superhuman self-control needed to resist it.

Dr. Deborah Cohen (courtesy)

Dr. Deborah Cohen (courtesy)

• Given that obesity has become a major public health problem, it is time for the government to step in, as it has in past public health crises — including, most classically, bringing in better sewage systems in the 19th century to stem water-borne diseases like cholera. Government measures could range from restricting displays of junk food to rating restaurants on how healthy their menus are.

I leave it to others to debate those central messages; I asked Dr. Cohen instead to expand on a more minor point that particularly rang true for me. On page 184, she includes this little coping tip: “Look at the current food environment and purveyors of processed foods with suspicion.” She writes:

“If we start viewing the worst offenders in the food and beverage industries with disdain, their efforts will fail to persuade us to buy their products. We will have inoculated ourselves against companies that sell us junk foods and that advertise and market those foods relentlessly. The best thing about this approach is that we won’t have to use up any of our willpower or limited cognitive capacity to reject these unhealthy foods — we will say no automatically, as we do when faced with anything suspicious.”

Recent books and media coverage can certainly help fan our suspicion, particularly the rising criticism of “Big Food,” and marketers whose products have been clearly shown to be obesogenic — soda, candy, junk food in general. Personally, I’ve found my own food attitudes shifting as my distrust of food-makers has risen, as I’ve read more about how marketers develop “hyper-palatable” foods to hook us, and stores design their shelves to maximize impulse buying. (In fact, Dr. Cohen cites findings that supermarkets often gain more income from vendors who pay for the prominent placement of their foods than from selling the food itself.)

It’s reached the point that, if I find a truly indefensible bit of junk food in my pantry, I may declare it “non-food” — “They only want us to think that it’s food, but it has no redeeming nutritional value whatsoever!” — and throw it out. My tainted attitude vastly diminishes any appeal it may have. Eating it would make me a sucker.

We’re being tricked into spending our limited resources on food that will lead to chronic disease.

So Dr. Cohen’s prescription for suspicion made sense to me, and I asked her to expand on it further: Can we really use our own disdain and distrust to lose weight and improve our health?

Our conversation, edited:

Deborah Cohen: First, I want to say that I actually think that trying to have each person solve this problem on their own is doomed to failure, because the environment is so powerful and it affects us in ways that we can’t always recognize. Unless we can control the environment, we’re not going to be able to control ourselves very well. That’s for most people. Yet there will be some people who can take this advice and put it to good use to lose weight, but that’s not going to be everybody.

Point taken, and I must say, I found your emphasis on the power of these automatic responses to food, that most of us cannot control, very comforting, because it has long baffled me that so many of us — including me — can accomplish so many other things but not lose unwanted weight. So how can distrust help us?

The easiest things to give up are junk food items like candy, sugar-sweetened beverages, chips. Let’s start there, because those are generally very recognizable, and they’re placed in our faces everywhere we go. If we can look at those items and think, ‘Those are being made to trick me, to dupe me and to take my money’ it will be easier to resist them. If you think about a bag of potato chips, that might be less than half a potato in there, the ingredients might cost a few pennies, but they’re going to charge you a dollar or more. The ingredients are cheaper than the labor, packing and advertising that are used to sell them.

So if we think that junk food is ripping us off, maybe we’re going to be less likely to buy it. We’re being ripped off financially, we’re being tricked because this food will increase our risk for chronic disease, and they’re exploiting our human nature to want something quick, convenient and tasty. So be suspicious.

Also, think about sugar-sweetened beverages. Continue reading

Project Louise: When Wanting To Work Out Just Doesn’t Work Out

Maybe just a handful ... (bowenmurphy via Creative Commons/Flickr)

Maybe just a handful … (bowenmurphy via Creative Commons/Flickr)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

Welcome to February, the month when trainers and gym regulars alike note a falling-off in the crowds that appeared right after New Year’s. Resolutions are a wonderful thing, but without a sustainable plan, apparently, they don’t last much beyond Groundhog Day.

I wish I could report that I’m an exception to this rule. But somehow I went through all of last week without getting to the gym once.

It stings to write that, perhaps especially because in my very first Project Louise post I declared that my pride would keep me from reporting that “I didn’t get to the gym at all, I ate Cheez-Its and Chardonnay for dinner every night, and I feel pretty miserable about all that but I’m not about to change.”

Really, though, it’s not quite that bad. I only ate Cheez-Its once, and we were out of Chardonnay. (Besides, Cheez-Its really call for a red, don’t you think?)

More seriously, here’s what gives me a sliver of hope amid the frustration and disappointment in myself: I do feel pretty miserable about it, but I am absolutely committed to making a change. And so I am trying to use this past week the way Coach Allison has encouraged me to: as an opportunity to observe what’s working and what isn’t, rather than as yet another chance to beat myself up.

So what happened? For one thing, I chose to focus on eating more healthfully – following the DASH diet I wrote about last week – and, in my case, that meant taking back control of the family cooking. (My husband had been doing the lion’s share, which was logistically very helpful, but his repertoire focuses on spaghetti and meat loaf, and I’ve been wanting to amp up the vegetables and salads for quite a while.) Because I often work until 5:30 or later, I needed to do a lot of meal prep in the mornings – and that meant I wasn’t getting out the door in time to go to the gym.

Beyond that, though, there were a couple of days when I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed. I thought I was getting a cold; I was also babying my knee a bit – one of the earlier glitches I hadn’t mentioned here, because it’s flat-out embarrassing, is that when I was running late for my first training session, I tripped on the stairs and banged up my knee. Three weeks later, it’s still swollen and sore.

Sleep! That’s the biggest problem.

The maybe-a-cold and the still-hurting knee were enough to make me go to the doctor; the nurse practitioner I saw ruled out a sinus infection and said the knee was just a bad bruise. So I’ve been icing it, and it’s getting better, but slowly. And it still hurt enough that I was anxious about aggravating it with squats and lunges – or at least that’s what I told myself when I hit the snooze button.

Sleep! That’s the biggest problem. I am a night owl, a tendency deeply reinforced by years of working evenings and nights; left to my own devices, I would go to sleep around 1 a.m. and get up at 8:30 or 9. Children make that pretty much impossible, obviously, but even so I have spent years sleeping till the last possible second – 7:43, if you must know – that will let me get my daughter to kindergarten on time. (The high school sophomore, mercifully, gets himself to the bus, except on those days when I drive him to a 5:45 workout – but I didn’t do that last week, either.) So, even though early morning seems like the only part of my day that I can reclaim, I am finding it really, really hard to make myself consistently get out of bed at 5:30 or 6. Continue reading

Project Louise: The Dirty Word That Starts With ‘D’

Louise Kennedy uses the D word with Dr. Thomas Moore, co-creator of the #1-ranked DASH diet.  (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

Louise Kennedy uses the D word with Dr. Thomas Moore, co-creator of the #1-ranked DASH diet. (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

By Louise Kennedy
Guest contributor

So far in Project Louise, we’ve been talking mostly about setting goals and developing new exercise habits. But of course there is that one word that always comes up in any discussion of health and fitness, a word that strikes fear into the heart, a word that evokes countless memories of hope and failure and shame, a word that so far I have avoided saying because I hate it at least as much as you do.

That word is “diet.”

But Dr. Thomas J. Moore says we shouldn’t be so scared of this word – and we should learn what it really means.

“What do people mean when they say ‘diet’?” Dr. Moore wrote to me, after I’d asked to interview him about an eating plan that he co-created and that consistently ranks No. 1 in a U.S. News survey of diet plans. (We’ll get to all that in a minute.)

“For some people, it always means weight loss,” he continued. “To others, including most nutrition folks, it means whatever people eat.” This matters, he said, because “if you only think diet means weight loss, you also think diet is temporary.  When you have lost your weight, you stop your diet and then … what?  You probably go back to what you were eating before and gain it all back.”

I am not ‘on a diet.’ I am ‘changing my diet.’

Don’t I know it. Just as one example, my current weight is a good 30 pounds above my starting weight when I did a Weight Watchers at Work program back in the early ’90s. I did lose the weight – got all the way down to 135 – but then slowly, inexorably gained it all back, and more, once I stopped going to meetings and writing down what I ate.

Of course we can say – and I did say, for years – that this is my fault for not sticking with the program. (And my fault for not having the “willpower” to stay on Atkins or South Beach or cabbage soup or juicing or any of the other fads that I – and possibly you – have picked up and put down.) But Dr. Moore gets me thinking: What if the problem wasn’t me and my willpower, but my not having found a program that I could stick to for life? Continue reading

Thyroid Doc: Kale Risks ‘Theoretical’ But In Reality, Very Low To Minuscule

bittermelon/flickr

bittermelon/flickr

This post — “The Dark Side of Kale (And How To Eat Around It)” — went wildly viral this week, generating huge traffic and high passions over this once minor but now hotter-than-hot vegetable. Among the accusations from readers were charges that the post was “dubious and dangerous” and that I was, in effect “discouraging Americans from eating vegetables” (my children would disagree).

Still, for a medical reality check, I turned to a doctor who specializes in treating the thyroid.

(Before we get to him, for background, my post was inspired by an earlier piece in The New York Times on potential thyroid problems linked to kale and other cruciferous vegetables, called “Kale? Juicing. Trouble Ahead.” This article was troubling to me since I, too, am a devoted kale fan.)

OK, back to the thyroid expert, who points out that this debate is particularly timely since January is Thyroid Awareness Month.

Dr. Jeffrey Garber is chief of endocrinology at Harvard Vanguard Medical Associates, and lead author of the latest clinical practice guideline on hypothyroidism in adults. He agreed to answer a few more questions on the kale-thyroid connection.

I’d sum up Dr. Garber’s take on the whole kale issue pretty simply: It’s probably unwise to embrace a long-term, pound-a-day raw kale habit, but even if you do, you will, in all likelihood, be fine. (Especially if you live in the U.S., where iodine deficiency isn’t a huge problem, and if you don’t have a family history or predisposition to thyroid disorders.)

“If one isn’t a food faddist or predisposed to a thyroid problem (family history, prior diagnosis) the risks are very low,” Garber said. And, he adds, if you have any concerns at all, check in with your doctor for a simple thyroid test.

Here, lightly edited, is our Q&A:

RZ: In plain terms, what’s the connection between kale, a cruciferous vegetable, and thyroid function?

JG: There are many substances that can interfere with the way the thyroid functions. Goitrogens, as in those that promote goiter, make up one of these categories.
(There’s an enormous amount of interest in environmental goitrogens, like BPA and other substances, but that’s another story: We’re talking about dietary goitrogens here.)

When you get into the way goitrogens can affect the thyroid directly there are three general ways (and all relate to iodine, which is what thyroid hormone is made from):

1. the way the thyroid picks up the iodine;

2. the way the thyroid produces the hormone once the iodine is in the thyroid;

3. the way thyroid hormone is secreted into the bloodstream.

When you look at dietary goitrogens, they interfere with one or more of these three steps.

OK, so kale is one of these so-called “goitrogenic” foods, right?

Yes. Continue reading

The Dark Side Of Kale (And How To Eat Around It)

(photofarmer/Flickr)

(photofarmer/Flickr)

The headline in The New York Times made my heart sink: “Kale? Juicing? Trouble Ahead.

Confession: I’m one of those Vitamix-loving, green-smoothie worshipping, kale bandwagoners. I brim with holier-than-thou pride when my kids eat raw kale (no dressing, even!) and thick kale-laden shakes while other children snack on sugary GoGURT squeezes and suck on juice boxes.

I am not alone. Presidents and stars are kale-lovers too.

Kale, in case you haven’t noticed, is health-conscious America’s “it” vegetable. Raw, blended, sauteed or in chip or “crunch” form, it appears to be the manna of celebrities: Gwyneth and Jennifer devour it while Kevin Bacon recently declared [it's] “the age of kale.” In an astutely reported feature called “Stars Who Love Kale,” US Weekly quotes Bette Midler saying: “Kale is burning up the veggisphere.”

Even the Obamas dined on kale salad at their Thanksgiving feast, notes The Washington Post.

But apparently there’s trouble in cruciferous paradise.

Writing for The Times, Jennifer Berman reports on the dark side of kale, and how the health-infused, veggie Eden she’d carefully built over years began to crumble:

Imagine my shock, then, at my last physical, when my doctor told me I had hypothyroidism, common in women over 40. When I got home I looked up the condition on the Internet and found a list of foods to avoid. Kale, which I juiced every morning, tops the list, followed by broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and collard greens — the cruciferous vegetables I consumed in large quantities because they are thought to prevent cancer, which runs in my family. And flax — as in the seeds — high in omega 3’s, that I sprinkled on cereal and blended in strawberry almond milk smoothies. Also forbidden: almonds and strawberries, not to mention soy, peaches, peanuts, corn, radishes, rutabaga and spinach.

My first reaction: Berman must be misguided, mistaken. Can kale possibly be bad?

Well, yes, possibly. Here’s the science-y lowdown on the kale-thyroid connection from the Oregon State University Micronutrient Information site:

Very high intakes of cruciferous vegetables…have been found to cause hypothyroidism (insufficient thyroid hormone) in animals (68). There has been one case report of an 88-year-old woman developing severe hypothyroidism and coma following consumption of an estimated 1.0 to 1.5 kg/day of raw bok choy for several months. Two mechanisms have been identified to explain this effect. The hydrolysis of some glucosinolates found in cruciferous vegetables (e.g., progoitrin) may yield a compound known as goitrin, which has been found to interfere with thyroid hormone synthesis. The hydrolysis of another class of glucosinolates, known as indole glucosinolates, results in the release of thiocyanate ions, which can compete with iodine for uptake by the thyroid gland. Increased exposure to thiocyanate ions from cruciferous vegetable consumption or, more commonly, from cigarette smoking, does not appear to increase the risk of hypothyroidism unless accompanied by iodine deficiency. One study in humans found that the consumption of 150 g/day (5 oz/day) of cooked Brussels sprouts for four weeks had no adverse effects on thyroid function.

(For an updated reality check on kale consumption and the thyroid, see our Q and A with endocrinologist and thyroid expert Dr. Jeffrey Garber here. Bottom line: in the U.S, where we don’t have a big problem with iodine deficiency, it’s probably OK.)

Teresa Fung, Sc.D., M.S.. an adjunct professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health and a professor at Simmons College in Boston, confirms the kale-thyroid link. But, she says, “normal, reasonable amounts of eating should not be a problem. A regular person [with no thyroid issues] who eats several servings of cruciferous vegetables a week should not have problems.”

Fung adds: “It’s the dose that makes a poison. If people have hypothyroidism or they’re taking thyroid medication, then they should check with their doctor. But even in this case, reasonable amounts shouldn’t be a problem. Now, if people have a tall glass of kale juice every single day, then it gets into the unknown territory.”

So, what are still-anxious kale-lovers to do? I asked Somerville, Mass. health coach and psychology of eating coach Nina Manolson to offer some guidance. (She’s not a doctor, but she knows a lot about food, so keep that in mind and always check with a professional if you make major changes in your diet.)

Nina reiterated that kale is a goitrogenic food, meaning that it can contribute to an enlarged thyroid — a goiter. A goiter indicates that the thyroid gland is not functioning optimally. But, she says, there are ways to have our kale and eat it too. Here, lightly edited, are her suggestions:

1. Cook Your Kale

The goitrogenic properties of kale become dramatically lessened when kale — or any other cruciferous vegetable — is cooked. (Other veggies in this category include: broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, kohlrabi, mustard, rutabaga, turnips, bok choy and Chinese cabbage. Arugula, horseradish, radish, wasabi and watercress are also cruciferous vegetables.) Continue reading

Who Needs An App For That? Most Of Us Use Old Ways To Track Diet

A little red calorie-tracking book. (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

A little red calorie-tracking book. (Carey Goldberg/WBUR)

How apt. Recently, inspired by Project Louise, I got on the scale — and gasped at my new numerical heights, forced to face the fact that I can’t eat everything I want, even if I do work out every day. So I dug out a tiny red notebook and started to track what I eat, a proven method for weight control.

I thought about using an app, but — I don’t know. I’m already hit dozens of times a day by subconscious prompts to reach for my devices. And I like my little notebook.

Also, according to the Pew Research Center, a leading resource on how technology permeates our American lives, I’m in the overwhelming majority here. For all the buzz around FitBits and Jawbones, such health-tracking devices still have quite a market to conquer.

Susannah Fox, associate director at the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, writes that 60 percent of American adults track their exercise, weight or diet.

But few of them – just 9% – use either an app on a mobile device or online tool to take notes. Half say they keep track in their heads, and a third use pen and paper.

Readers, theories? Mine is that few of us want to quantify ourselves with such gorgeous visualization of data that we need computing power to do it. Personally, all I need to know is how close I’ve come to 1800 calories in a given day. Not rocket science, barely even math. But what do you think? And is there an app or an online tool so seductive and indispensable it will tip the balance?

What A Difference A High-Fat Day Makes — To Your Gut Bugs

Stop reading right here if you just want to eat your holiday roast in peace. But if the familiar caveats about weight and cholesterol don’t work for you anymore, and you’re looking for a whole new reason for restraint among the rich holiday treats, here it is: High-fat eating wreaks changes in the microbes that inhabit your gut with such dramatic rapidity that even a single day can make a difference.

That finding is just out in the journal Nature, in a study titled “Diet rapidly and reproducibly alters the human gut microbiome.”

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

“This is the first time we’ve seen, I would say, a dramatic effect on the gut microbiome in response to diet in humans over a very short time frame,” said the paper’s senior author, Harvard microbiologist Peter Turnbaugh.

Just to review recent news from the sizzling, newish field of microbiomics: You are basically a walking, talking mountain of microbes. Well, not quite, but your bugs do outnumber you. The trillions of bacteria and viruses and fungi that live in your body outnumber your own cells by an estimated 10 to 1, and their genes outnumber your genes by probably hundreds to one.

Now for the Nature study: Turnbaugh and his colleagues put 10 human subjects on either a plant-based diet (think developing country, lentils and rice) or an animal-based diet (think Atkins, or a Western diet on steroids, with 70 percent fat and 30 percent protein). The researchers analyzed the participants’ gut microbes and found that within a day, they changed.

It’s not as if the whole set of microbes were replaced by a new set, Turnbaugh said, but the abundance of some microbes changed, and their activity — judged by which genes were “turned on” — changed rapidly. In meat-eaters, the microbes tended toward breaking down protein, while in plant-eaters, the bugs were more geared toward carbohydrate fermentation.

The biggest surprise came from one particular bacterium, Bilophila wadsworthia, which has been linked in animal studies to Irritable Bowel Disease. Turnbaugh’s team found that on the animal-based diet, those B. wadsworthia microbes increased more dramatically than others.

So “it all points to the idea that — just as had been previously seen in animals — in humans, eating certain diets that are high in the right types of fats may lead to expansions of these microbes that are potentially pathogenic,” he said.

More broadly, are we entering an era of thinking differently about how our diets affect us? Will we soon be thinking about how they change not just our waistlines and cholesterol levels but also our microbiomes? Continue reading

Recipe For Obesity: Fast-Food Burgers And Sodas, Study Finds

(Wikimedia Commons)

(Wikimedia Commons)

We already know that fast food restaurants are among the culprits in America’s obesity epidemic, but it’s not just where you eat, it’s what. In particular, Boston University has just sent over word of a study that linked specifically fast-food burgers and sodas to obesity in young African-American women. From the press release:

A research team from Boston University’s Slone Epidemiology Center examined the association between consumption of foods from restaurants and risk of becoming obese in a large cohort of young African American women. Their results, published online today in Ethnicity & Disease, provide evidence that frequently eating hamburgers from restaurants is associated with higher risk of obesity. Higher intake of sugar-sweetened soft drinks, which are commonly consumed together with restaurant foods, was also independently associated with obesity risk.

This study was conducted using data from the Black Women’s Health Study, an ongoing investigation of the health of 59,000 African American women that began in 1995. The analysis included younger women, aged 21 to 39 years, because most weight gain occurs before middle age. The women studied were not obese and had no history of cancer or cardiovascular disease at the start of follow-up. Diet was assessed twice (in 1995 and 2001) using validated questionnaires, and information on the participants’ weights was collected every two years from the study’s start until 2011…

The researchers found that women who ate burgers from restaurants at least twice a week were 26 percent more likely to become obese by the end of the study than those who rarely ate burgers, after controlling for many factors including overall diet quality and sugar-sweetened soft drink consumption. In addition, women who drank at least two sugar-sweetened soft drinks per day were 10 percent more likely to become obese than those who drank none, after controlling for overall diet quality and restaurant burger consumption.