Weekend Reading

Happy Sunday, friends. I hope this weekend reading post finds you staying warm and well. It’s been a hectic few days here, as I finish up a big freelance project in time for the start of my new semester. Amazingly, that semester begins this coming Thursday. It feels as if my first semester just ended, and I wonder if I’ll feel the same way in May, at which point my whole first year will be behind me.

When I first told people I was going back to school (again) for the RD, I got a lot of kindly concern about the duration of doing the program part-time (it’s 3+ years, if you take my internship into account). Even now, “how much longer do you have?” is still what I’m asked most often about my studies.

Funnily enough, after all the time I spent wishing my post-bacc would finish sooner, I’m not minding the slow journey toward my RDN, nor does it frighten me to contemplate being in school for some time longer. I’m savoring the material, learning things each day that feel relevant and interesting, and in going part-time I’ve managed to stay immersed in the work I love: nutrition coaching, recipe development, and this blog. I’m not sorry that the time is moving quickly, of course, but I don’t feel in a rush to reach the finish line. There’s something nice about that sensation, especially as patience is not always a quality that comes easily to me.

Speaking of patience, I won’t keep you waiting any longer: let’s get right down to recipes and reads!

Recipes

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This is exactly the kind of smoothie I love: rich, decadent, and, um, chocolate. I highly recommend checking out Andrea’s chocolate, almond, and oatmeal smoothie over at Dishing Up the Dirt.

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Making claims like “the avocado toast to rule them all” is risky business: people feel strong attachment to their favorite avo toast recipes! But seriously, Genevieve’s kimchi tempeh avocado toast over at Gratitude & Greens has it all: spice, salt, creaminess, texture. I’m in love.

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I don’t think that vegan comfort food gets any better than Harriet Emily’s cheesy garlic herb potato wedges. Simple flavorings, oven roasting, and then a nice topping of vegan cheese? Yes, please.

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If curry is a staple in your home (and even if it’s not), Heidi Swanson has a great new recipe for lemongrass turmeric curry paste–perfect for incorporating into curries, grain dishes, soups, or stews, and it has the most beautiful golden color (as you can see in the photo above).

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Shira of In Pursuit of More always has the most wonderful ideas for easy, quick, nourishing dinners, and this pasta dish with a simple mustard + tomato salad is a perfect example. Mustard and lentils are a favorite combo of mine (see: mustardy lentil and sweet potato salad).

Reads

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1. To start things off on a fun note, I was delighted to see this article about vegan cheeses in Food and Wine magazine. It’s amazing to watch as vegan cuisine creeps more and more into the mainstream, gaining credibility in the culinary circles from which it was previously excluded. I feel grateful for all of the wonderful, artisan vegan cheesemakers who are helping to make people rethink what’s possible in the non-dairy realm!

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2. Coverage of an interesting new study that sheds light on the role of mitochondria–often thought of as our cellular energy centers–in the human stress response. The study may substantially impact our future understanding of psychiatric and neurological diseases, according to researcher Douglas Wallace.

Wallace and his team found that even slight changes in mitochondrial genes had a large effect on how mammals respond to stress in their environments. He’s quoted saying, “What’s missed is the realization that mitochondria is much more important than just making ATP,” he says. “It has a central regulatory role, because nothing in your body can go forward without energy. Mitochondria is the missing link between human behavior and human physiology.”

It’ll be interesting to see what further discoveries lie ahead.

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3. A mini-round-up of articles that touch on the intersection of weight, body image, and mental/physical health–each with an emphasis on the value of focusing less on weight as a marker of health, and more on other modes of evaluation (like examination of an individual’s overall diet, activity level, stress management, and relationship with intuitive eating).

The first is an article from the winter issue of Today’s Dietitian, which discusses the Health at Every Size (HAES) approach. This approach, which is endorsed by most of the major eating disorder associations, offers an alternative to traditional, restrictive diet programs and suggests that it’s better both physically and emotionally to be as healthy as you can at whatever weight you are, rather than pursuing a number that may or may not prove attainable. It emphasizes healthful behaviors, including a healthful, but not restrictive, diet, physical activity, sleep, stress management, and intuitive eating.

The article does a good job of both presenting succinctly the benefits of this approach, and also some counterarguments: supervision and counseling may be necessary to avoid having the philosophy confused with an endorsement to “eat whatever you want,” and some dietitians believe that it’s “unethical” to not warn patients against the increased health risks associated with extreme obesity. These arguments make sense to me, though one dietitian’s statement that “it’s rare that people have healthful eating habits and can’t lose weight” doesn’t align with my experience at all. I’ve seen many clients and individuals through my work who eat healthfully without losing weight, and this may happen for all sorts of reasons (health complications, medications, genetics, a naturally lower metabolic set point). There can be tremendous frustration and sadness when a person finds that embracing healthy habits does not result in the attainment of a weight that’s predicted on BMI charts. So, I can understand the call to shift emphasis away from weight loss and toward overall acceptance of a multitude of shapes, all the while emphasizing the lifestyle habits that are associated with health.

I read this article having recently read another article about weight stigma. It’s an interview with Rebecca Puhl, deputy director of the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at UConn. In it, Puhl discusses the body of research suggesting both that weight discrimination is a prevalent problem in employment, medical facilities, educational institutions, and personal relationships, and also that obesity stigma has major implications for mental health. Puhl notes that, “[W]e…live in a society that tends to oversimplify the causes of obesity. We believe mistakenly that obesity is simply an issue of laziness or willpower. We do not talk about the much more complex contributors to obesity, many of which are beyond personal control.”

Puhl also describes how this oversimplification and tendency to assign blame to individuals can lead to increased depression, anxiety, and even suicidal thoughts among both kids and adults. Significantly, she describes how weight stigma actually contributes to further weight gain:

When it comes to physical health consequences we see that individuals who experience weight discriminations or stigma engage in unhealthy eating behaviors like binge eating or increased food consumption, avoidance of physical activity. One reason it’s important to identify and emphasize this is that there tends to be this societal perception that maybe stigma’s not such a bad thing when it comes to obesity, maybe stigma will somehow motivate people to lose weight or provide them with incentive to lose weight. But when we look at the research on this issue, we see the exact opposite is true, that in fact experiences of weight discrimination or stigma is actually reinforcing obesity and risk of weight gain so it’s actually contributing to this issue.”

It’s an important perspective to keep in mind, and Puhl goes on to say other insightful things about how conversations about lifestyle can be had without using triggering language or suggesting blame.

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Finally, I enjoyed this short essay in PopSugar, written by a woman who has spent her life battling weight stigma and pressure–in spite of embracing healthful habits and a balanced relationship with food. “I’ve got people from every angle preaching at me to love myself and be comfortable with who I am,” she says “but my brain just wouldn’t accept that. My brain still wanted me to be skinny. It has been an unbelievably frustrating battle for virtually my whole life.”

Her descriptions of the drastic and totally unsustainable measures that would be necessary for her to change her shape certainly align with the idea that prescribed BMI ideals may simply not work for a lot of people. I’m glad that the author is able to conclude, no matter how painful coming to the vow has been, that “it’s time to love me.”

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4. I was very intrigued by an article in Quartz entitled “There’s a way to get girls to stick with science–and no, it’s not more female role models.” The author, Shannon Palus, argues that that institutionally entrenched sexism and racism are the main forces that drive women away from the sciences, rather than an inborn, gender-related disinclination. Campaigns to sell science to girls–many of which rely heavily on gender stereotypes, strike her as misguided:

“…I’m confused by campaigns that assume girls and women have to be lured into science with gender-specific appeals. The most recent to get under my skin was IBM’s sexist “Hack a Hairdryer” campaign, with the implication that women will be drawn to solving problems if they involve beauty appliances. There’s also GoldieBlox, a line of dolls and construction kits aimed at making engineering more appealing to young women…And then there’s the European Commission’s “Science: It’s a Girl Thing!” initiative, which kicked off with a pink, cosmetic-filled ad, and currently offers a perky list of reasons “Why you’ll LOVE science,” complete with a heart emoticon.”

All of these, she argues, miss the point: “The issue isn’t that women and other underrepresented minorities are uninterested in science. It’s that science pushes them away.”

Palus goes on to highlight one study of 7,505 high school students in Florida. The study showed measured the effect of certain interventions on students’ interest in physics, including single-sex classes; presentation of role models, women guest speakers, and women who made contributions to the field; and discussing the problem of underrepresentation itself. Among these efforts, it was sparking a dialog about discrimination that succeeded in making most of the women more interested in pursuing a career in the sciences.

The study points to something significant, which is that presenting women with admirable exemplars in the science field and prodding them with ad campaigns may not accomplish what’s most necessary: making them aware that the culture in which they live, not they, are to blame for underrepresentation. It’s an interesting perspective, one I hadn’t given much thought to, and very worth reading.

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Finally, a touching and powerful set of lessons from Maria Popova, who for the last seven years has been the compiler, researcher, and writer responsible for the awesome website BrainPickings. Popova puts together seven things she’s learned in the time she’s been managing the site, reading and speaking to a wide array of inspiring individuals. “I share these here not because they apply to every life and offer some sort of blueprint to existence,” she says, “but in the hope that they might benefit your own journey in some small way, bring you closer to your own center, or even simply invite you to reflect on your own sense of purpose.”

We’ve all seen lists of life lessons like these; sometimes they inspire, sometimes they don’t. Personally, I found this to be a wonderful and refreshing set of reminders. Some of the tips–“be generous,” “build pockets of stillness into your life”–are familiar. Others–“Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity”–are less so, at least to me.

I deeply appreciate Popova’s first point, which is “Allow yourself the uncomfortable luxury of changing your mind.” “Uncomfortable luxury” is such a good way of capturing the capacity for change. I think back to how petrified I was of change when I was younger, how any alteration of course read to me as a form of failure or lack of resolve. It’s only now that I can appreciate that the freedom to change’s one’s mind and one’s direction is a true privilege, and also that change is far from a signal of defeat–on the contrary, it’s often an act that demands courage and self-awareness.

I hope you enjoy the list, and all of the other reads. And I’ll see you here for Menu Plan Monday tomorrow.

xo

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